Newswise — Hospital for Special Surgery (HSS) made a splash with a surfing trip for young patients on Long Island in August. Giving new meaning to patient care, the hospital’s Adaptive Sports Academy at Lerner Children’s Pavilion treated 10 young people and their siblings to a surfing lesson, followed by a chance to ride the waves in Long Beach.

The academy organizes the annual excursion and other activities for young people with cerebral palsy or another physical challenge. Cancelled last year due to the pandemic, patients and their families were thrilled to hear that surfing was back on the calendar this year. The trips are offered without cost thanks to the generosity of donors.

“Our adaptive sports trips encourage young people with physical disabilities to challenge themselves by trying new sports, while building their self-confidence and encouraging independence,” said Peyton Katz, pediatric patient and family care coordinator at HSS. “Some of the kids are not sure at first how well they’ll do, but they almost always exceed their own expectations.”

Adaptive sports are competitive or recreational activities for people with differing abilities. Sometimes rules or equipment is modified to meet the needs of participants. The kids who went surfing were 5 to 15 years old, most with cerebral palsy or another condition affecting body movement, muscle control, posture and balance. Many have had multiple surgeries by pediatric orthopedic surgeons at HSS and have been patients for years.

“For many of the kids, it was a chance to experience moving their bodies and using their muscles in ways they’ve never experienced before,” explained David M. Scher, MD, a pediatric orthopedic surgeon who has performed many of the surgeries to improve movement, posture, balance and mobility. “It was also a wonderful opportunity for them to go outside and enjoy the fresh air. Over the past year, such opportunities have been limited for many of the kids.” 

Some of the young people use crutches or a walker to get around, and they needed a beach wheelchair to get to the water. But that didn’t stop them from climbing on the surfboard. Balancing on a surfboard while in the water would be a challenge for any beginner, but with help from their instructors, the patients experienced the thrill of hanging ten. 

Twelve-year-old Alex Nowakowski had surgery at HSS just two months before the trip and was excited when Dr. Scher cleared him to go surfing. “It was cool, there were a lot of waves,” he explained. On land, Alex uses a walker or a cane, but it was a different story when riding a wave with his instructor, Will Skudin. “I feel like the instructors understood me really well,” Alex explained, “and the good part was that Will was able to stand me up on the surfboard.”

Alex’s mother, Magdalena Nowakowski of Ronkonkoma, was awestruck as she watched from the shore, recording video of a day she says her son will always remember. “I couldn’t believe it when the instructor lifted him up on the surfboard. I thought they would just sit him down,” she says. “It was amazing! They rode a wave all the way down, and the smile on Alex’s face was just pure joy.”

The young people learned to surf from the best of the best. World-class surfers Will and Cliff Skudin, well-known and admired among surfing enthusiasts, provided the lessons, along with their specially trained staff at Skudin Surf in Long Beach.

“It was wonderful! Kids got to be kids without limitation,” said Jessica Parise, child life supervisor at HSS. “Seeing the patients’ siblings and parents surf with them was amazing. Everyone was full of joy! Safe to say those watching had tears in their eyes. I know I did.”

About HSS

HSS is the world’s leading academic medical center focused on musculoskeletal health. At its core is Hospital for Special Surgery, nationally ranked No. 1 in orthopedics (for the 12th consecutive year), No. 4 in rheumatology by U.S. News & World Report (2021-2022), and the best pediatric orthopedic hospital in NY, NJ and CT by U.S. News & World Report “Best Children’s Hospitals” list (2021-2022). HSS is ranked world #1 in orthopedics by Newsweek (2020-2021). Founded in 1863, the Hospital has the lowest complication and readmission rates in the nation for orthopedics, and among the lowest infection rates. HSS was the first in New York State to receive Magnet Recognition for Excellence in Nursing Service from the American Nurses Credentialing Center five consecutive times. The global standard total knee replacement was developed at HSS in 1969. An affiliate of Weill Cornell Medical College, HSS has a main campus in New York City and facilities in New Jersey, Connecticut and in the Long Island and Westchester County regions of New York State, as well as in Florida. In addition to patient care, HSS leads the field in research, innovation and education. The HSS Research Institute comprises 20 laboratories and 300 staff members focused on leading the advancement of musculoskeletal health through prevention of degeneration, tissue repair and tissue regeneration. The HSS Global Innovation Institute was formed in 2016 to realize the potential of new drugs, therapeutics and devices. The HSS Education Institute is a trusted leader in advancing musculoskeletal knowledge and research for physicians, nurses, allied health professionals, academic trainees, and consumers in more than 130 countries. The institution is collaborating with medical centers and other organizations to advance the quality and value of musculoskeletal care and to make world-class HSS care more widely accessible nationally and internationally.