Efeed: Teaching Toddlers How to Eat

October 17, 2011

The simple act of swallowing takes about 50 pairs of muscles and nerves, and for some children, it's something they just can't do. Now, these kids are getting the help they need without even leaving their own high chairs.

Mealtime has never looked so good to Elizabeth Rynd.

"Chew and swallow before you put more in," Elizabeth tells her son, Andrew.

For the first two years of Andrew's life, he never ate a single meal.

"I would come to him with a spoon, and he would go no, no! You're not getting anywhere near me with that thing," Elizabeth explained to Ivanhoe.

Andrew was born with a rare condition. Milk would go into his lung, and he couldn't cough it out.

"We noticed it when I was breastfeeding him, and he stopped breathing, and his lips turned blue," Elizabeth said.

He didn't know how to chew or swallow. That's where the one-of-a-kind Efeed program comes in. It allows children like Andrew to get help via the Internet from an entire team of specialists.

For thousands of children, eating does not come naturally. For kids with cerebral palsy, autism, cleft palate and even behavioral problems, programs like Efeed can help. It's like continuing, personalized care that happens after you leave the doctor's office.

"All of the sudden, they're going back to whereversville, and they don't have the support team. So this allows them to stay connected," Pamela Martorana, a family counselor from the Center for Pediatric Feeding & Swallowing at St. Joseph's Hospital in New Jersey, told Ivanhoe.

On this day, an occupational therapist, speech pathologist, nurse practitioner and physical therapist in New Jersey are joining Fin Nowell and his mom for lunch in Utah. Fin was born at just 23 weeks. His ability to swallow never developed.

"So, today she got to hear about his oral, motor, his gut mealtime posture, so she gets the benefit of every person present," Martorana explained.

Since starting the program last year, Fin no longer relies on his feeding tube completely.

"It was great today because we feel like we are moving on to the next step, which is putting some chewable onto his teeth," Melissa Nowell, Fin's mom, told Ivanhoe.

Opening his world -- and others' -- to new foods, tastes and sensations.

"Andrew actually learned something new in this session. He would always put the food on the side of his mouth to bite down, and they had him transfer it to the middle. They could see that through the Internet and make that change for us," Elizabeth explained.

Now, Andrew can also enjoy his favorite foods… to the very last bite.

Efeed can be used for initial screenings for out-of-state families to see if their child is a candidate for an intense four-week therapy program at the pediatric feeding and swallowing center. Efeed is also used for follow-ups for out-of-state families who've completed that therapy.

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