History of the Clinic
The Opelousas Area Cerebral Palsy Clinic was founded in 1955 by Mr. and Mrs. Bill Fields, parents of a child with cerebral palsy. The building was built by area merchants and citizens who donated time and labor for its completion. The Clinic has been providing physical therapy treatments for area children and adults with cerebral palsy, free of charge, for over sixty (60) years.
Devotion: a cornerstone for a clinic
Cerebral Palsy Clinic marks 36 years of service
In 1952, Mrs. Elaine Fields gave birth to a baby girl. The child suffered a birth defect known as cerebral palsy. It was a diagnosed as a very severe case.
Two years later, Mrs. Fields was reading in the Ladies Home Journal about a mother of a child with cerebral palsy in Rhyn, New York. The compelling article touched her and she went to the telephone and called the woman who advised her to get in touch with the New Orleans Cerebral Palsy Association.
Through the article in the magazine and the help of the New Orleans organization in referring her to a convention in San Antonio, she made the decision to do what she could for other families of children with cerebral palsy. She packed her bags and began the long trip toward her objective.
It was the first leg of the journey to San Antonio – traveling by bus – that she met a Dr. Soboloff and a Dr. Russ, an orthopedist and a pediatrician respectively from New Orleans. They specialized in treating cerebral palsy (CP) children.
After the convention, they recommended that she gather a group of families who had children with CP and start an organization in the Opelousas area. She went to the health unit and through the files of the health unit began contacting families and managed to get 45 families who answered her call expressing an interest in the subject. They met at the fire hall. A gentleman from the New Orleans Cerebral Palsy Association showed them a background film and they formed the local organization.
That organizational session was in 1954.
The group realized the first thing they must do was to start much needed therapy session for the CP children. Accordingly, they hired a part time physical therapist who worked two days a week through the health unit. The therapist was Dean Harold.
Dr. Soboloff and Dr. Russ also came from New Orleans to Opelousas regularly to evaluate the children and recommend specific therapy for Mr. Harold to administer. there were about 45 families involved at the time and Dr. Soboloff and Russ did this for three years at no cost to our city or any of the patients.
The organization realized that they needed money to pay a full time therapist and so they, through the inspiration of the National Cerebral Palsy Association, organized a walk-a-thon with the local postmen taking pledges.
All the postmen in the greater Opelousas area re-walked their route during one night and managed to raise, in the year 1955, $4,000. This was used to pay a full-time therapist and to start the foundation of a local clinic. Mrs. Fields’ husband laid the foundation as his donation to the cause.
Money was raised to build the clinic up to the level of the walls. Gantt Nicholson of historic Washington finished the clinic building. Several people and merchants gave their times, service, and donated materials to finish it on the inside and provided all of the rugs and cabinets and everything else that was needed to see the project completed. It was definitely a community project.
The local organization continued to provide financial and emotional support for the clinic with several fund raisers including dances, gumbos, and even drag races. The clinic has been a project of the Opelousas Pilot Club for several years with funds raised through an annual gumbo.
The clinic was formally opened in November 1956.
The first full time physical therapist was Benny Hiedenrike from Natchitoches. Speech therapists were sent a few days a week from the school board, enabling the children to receive both speech therapy and physical therapy at the clinic..
The late Mrs. Lois Boagni was hired at about this time and functioned as an occupational therapist and truly as a ‘mother hen’ for the clinic. She worked as a liaison between the children, their parents, the local organization which supported the clinic and all of the professionals who worked directly with the clinic.
She contacted parents about parties which wee held for the children. She gave her time and emotional support to each child who came to the clinic for many, many years and had a major impact on many of them who I have personally talked to including, Walton Sellers (now 28 and a history teacher at Opelousas Catholic), and Steve Leblanc (now 37 and Congressman Clyde Holloway’s’ press secretary).
When Dr. Soboloff and Dr. Russ stopped coming to Opelousas to evaluate the children and recommend therapy, Dr. Luke Bordelon, a local orthopedist began taking over the job.
He served in this capacity for almost 30 years and then turned it over to his junior partner, Dr. Thomas Butaud who continues the work today. Both of the physicians, as well as the ones from New Orleans have provided this service as a complimentary gesture for the clinic and provided critically needed evaluations so that the children could receive proper therapy.
Every child who has been treated through the Opelousas Area Cerebral Palsy Clinic has been treated free and they have never been asked for any charge throughout the 36 year history of the clinic.
Herb Daily is a local physical therapist who took over the job of full time physical therapist and has also been like Mrs. Boagni, a vital professional and emotional support for the clinic giving his tremendous expertise and loving gentleness to hundred of kids of the past 20 + years at the facility
The Opelousas Area Cerebral Palsy Clinic has been totally funded through local efforts and been totaling independent of the National Cerebral Palsy Association. The reason for this was, to local organizers in 1956 wanted to keep 100% of the money raised in the greater Opelousas area for the children. To do that – without being required to provide a portion of the money for research to the national organization – they had to remain totally independent and have managed to do so for 36 years.
They still credit the national organization for their kick-off inspiration and guidance.
At the present time, many changes are taking place including lack of support from the local school board. In other words, the local school board is now treating many of the CP Clinic children and hiring separate physical therapist, speech therapists to work through the school system and not busing the children to the Cerebral Palsy Clinic as they had in the past.
Some local individuals feel that the children are not receiving the sam on-going physical therapy and care that they received through the CP Clinic. These families and many who support the clinic would like to see the school board support children’s families who would like their youngsters to continue going to the CP Clinic at least once a week.
Due to these recent changes there are only about 7-8 small children who are presently being treated at the clinic. This raises major questions including, whether the clinic should stay open at all. Hopefully through the support of concerned citizens in the area and the memory of people like the late Mrs. Lois Boagni and the inspirational leadership over the past 36 years by Mrs. Elaine Fields and several other wonderful and unselfish local citizens including Algie Rose, Louis D’Avy, Sidney Sandoz and several other members who have served as presidents of the Opelousas Area Cerebral Palsy Clinic, we can rejuvenate the clinic with financial and emotional support and keep it open for another 36 years and help many more needy cerebral palsy children in the future.
The Opelousas Cerebral Palsy Clinic is very unique in that it has remained independent throughout all these years and is one of only a few in the entire country which has been run this way.
In today’s world where everyone looks for support from the United Way or the Federal Government or the State, it is inspirational to see an organization such as the Opelousas CP Clinic which has been totally self-supporting and independent.
I hope that through this spring’s fund raiser at the Yambilee we can continue this tradition for many years to come. Please help us with your support prayerfully and if you can financially.
The author of this article, Dr. Brent Prather, is a local pediatrician and allergist in Opelousas.