PM&R Patient’s Hard Work Rewarded at the ‘Happiest Place on Earth’

May 23, 2017 6:00 AM

Treatment at Michigan Medicine allowed one cerebral palsy patient to live independently, which led to Orlando and a job at Walt Disney. Now, he’s received the park’s highest employee honor.

Carey Larabee met Edward Hurvitz, M.D., in 1997 when he was 17 years old. It was to discuss a pump medical device he hoped would allow him to live and attend college independently.

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“I was diagnosed with cerebral palsy at birth,” Larabee says. “I had a lack of oxygen to my brain, and it affected my central nervous system. It made me a quadriplegic, and I experienced lots of muscle spasticity.”

After meeting with Hurvitz, professor and chair of the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at Michigan Medicine, and his colleagues Virginia Nelson, M.D., Rita Ayyangar, M.D., and Hugh Garton, M.D., they agreed Larabee was a good candidate for the intrathecal baclofen pump. He also met with Margy Fox, clinical nurse specialist in the baclofen pump program, who could answer any questions or concerns he had during treatment.

The pump, which was inserted into his lower left abdomen, includes a catheter that releases a liquid form of baclofen, a medication to treat muscle spasticity, into the spinal canal over 24 hours.

He says the hockey puck-shaped device improved his symptoms to an amazing degree.

“The pump, along with physical therapy, have really helped me to have more controlled muscle tone and have freer movements,” Larabee says. “It allowed me to be able to go to the bathroom independently, shift and transfer my weight easier and assist my family or whomever is helping me.”

Independence in college and beyond

Born and raised in Michigan, Larabee was excited for the opportunity to go to college and decided on the University of Michigan. He graduated in 2002 with a degree in sports management and communications from the School of Kinesiology.

SEE ALSO: Exercise Guidelines for Cerebral Palsy Patients

After an internship with the Detroit Tigers and the Ann Arbor Center for Independent Living, a nonprofit that benefits people with disabilities, Larabee decided he was tired of the cold weather and ready for a challenge and change.

In 2005, he moved to Orlando, Florida, and took a job at Walt Disney World at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex.

“I’ve worked there for 12 years, all at the Sports Complex because I love sports. It’s been great to meet a lot of good people and friends,” he says.

Carey Larabee with his Disney Legacy Award, presented to a select few Disney employees each year.

Receiving Disney’s highest honor

Depending on the event, Larabee’s guest services role entails either event operations, athlete and coaches’ registration or assisting guests with disabilities — helping them get autographs from their favorite professional athletes. He also facilitates on-the-job training and property orientation for new employees.

“That’s probably my favorite part, helping those with disabilities during our special events, such as the Atlanta Braves spring training or the NFL Pro Bowl,” he says. “It’s one of my passions that has carried with me from my days when I volunteered at C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital as a college student at U-M.”

Management noticed Larabee’s passion.

In response, he was awarded the Disney Legacy Award in February during a ceremony at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex. This month, he will attend a commemorative dinner at the Disney Contemporary Resort. The prestigious honor is given every year to exemplary cast members and employees. Only 2 percent of people in the company receive the award.

“It’s quite an honor,” Larabee says. “It goes to those employees who have exceptional guest service and uphold the traditions and ideals set by Walt Disney himself. I’m very honored to receive it.”

Larabee says his job has allowed him to be a part of unique events he may not otherwise get to partake in.

“We hosted the 2016 Invictus Games last year — Prince Harry’s event for wounded veterans,” he says. “That was really cool. Probably the biggest thrill for me, though, was meeting President George W. Bush. He was super nice and gracious.”

These achievements would have been a lot more difficult without the pump.

“I’m on my fifth pump and am still able to live on my own in my own apartment with caregivers who check up on me,” Larabee says. “The pump has done a great deal for me.”

As did, he says, his Michigan Medicine care team.

“Other than my parents, I owe a great deal of my success and independence to the Michigan Medicine Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation,” Larabee says. “I’m very thankful to Drs. Hurvitz, Nelson, Ayyangar and Garton and the rest of their team.”