Group feeding program in Bethany is helping kids with swallowing problems to eat again

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Feeding and swallowing problems are more common than you’d think for some people, including children.

Due to medical conditions, some patients have never even learned to eat by mouth and survive by feeding tubes.

At the Children’s Center Rehabilitation Hospital in Bethany, there’s a group feeding program helping kids accept new or undesired foods and work to improve their oral motor feeding skills.

Harper Green is now almost 2 years old.

But, at two-months-old, Harper stopped eating and gradually started to lose weight.

She was admitted to the Children's Center Rehabilitation Hospital.

Doctors labeled her as failure to thrive, and a feeding tube was inserted into her stomach.

"She's 80 percent fed by tube, 20 percent fed by mouth. We will slowly keep cutting her tube feeds and higher her by mouth feeds to where eventually her goal is to eat all the way by mouth," said her mom, Casidea Holliday.

Holliday said they still don't know why Harper stopped eating.

Even after lots of tests, there's still no medical diagnosis.

"She has severe food allergies, and so maybe that was causing her pain where she would start refusing to eat," Holliday said.

Harper has been going to individual feeding therapy since October 2014, but it's this group therapy where she has gained confidence with food.

"We play with food. We make it creatures. We make it toys. We make it fun because that's how they're going to learn to trust and interact with the food again," said her Speech Pathologist, Heather Jarvis.

It's a strategy Jarvis said comes with education.

She is a specialist in swallowing and swallowing disorders.

"They're learning to chew. They're learning to use their tongue and their lips and cheek muscles, so we're retraining things that maybe they lost during development," Jarvis said.

"She will eat by mouth one day all the way. We believe it. Heather believes it," Holliday said.

Jarvis is a certified specialist in swallowing or swallowing disorders.

There are less than 300 certified affiliates that hold this certification in the world.