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Julia and Mia Paparella
Julia Paparella, 11, and Mia Paparella, 8, two sisters from Bayville, New Jersey, have come a long way. Mia still receives treatment at Children’s Specialized Hospital in Tom’s River, where Julia was also a patient.
The Paparella family understands the value of quality pediatric care. Julia was diagnosed failure to thrive because of an undiagnosed food allergy and Mia has a sensory processing disorder.
Julia was born a little smaller than the average baby at six pounds, but was otherwise healthy. However, at her nine-month check-up, a doctor told the Paparellas that Julia had dropped her growth curve. At Julia’s 12-month visit, she dropped again and the doctor was concerned. The Paparellas started their search for answers. Many tests were done, and because Julia’s growth continued to decline, she was diagnosed with failure to thrive.
The next two years were panic-filled for the Paparellas, as they desperately tried to find out what was happening to their daughter. In that time, Julia began to slowly refuse almost all the food offered to her. Several diagnoses were discussed as possible causes, but additional testing revealed that it wasn't any of them. The Paparellas brought Julia to a hospital to be weighed and measured every 3 weeks. At each visit Gina Paparella’s heart would break as she watched Julia scream.
“She would reach her hands out for me to rescue her,” Gina remembers.
The Paparellas endured putting their daughter under anesthesia when gastro exploratory surgery became necessary, as Julia’s significant drop off the growth chart became life threatening. It was discovered that she had many food allergies that caused a baby ulcer and it was too painful for her to eat. Julia’s allergies were undetected because her reaction was happening on the inside; she had sores throughout the lining of her stomach.
The Paparellas were immensely grateful for their experience at Children’s Specialized Hospital because Julia’s nutritionist and feeding team were instrumental in putting her back on the chart.
“They were so creative in their discovery of finding what works,” Gina says. “Because of their intervention, Julia was spared a feeding tube.”
As the Paparellas seemed to be getting Julia out of the woods with the feeding issue, another one began to emerge. Julia was developmentally delayed with her speech. She could label things but couldn't put words together. She was approaching her fourth birthday and only had a few two-word utterances. Her speech therapist at Children’s Specialized Hospital never gave up on her. Julia was a bright-eyed preschooler who could only communicate through the sign language her therapist taught her. When she was five years old she began to speak sentences. Julia was diagnosed with central auditory processing disorder at age eight.  
The Paparella’s second daughter, Mia, was a healthy baby girl and growing well. As her toddler years immerged, doctors discovered that she too, had a delay in language capabilities.
But something else seemed different. Mia craved “pressure”; she was constantly jumping and bouncing, which gave her pressure in her feet, along with climbing, which gave her pressure in her hands. Mia could scale a wall with ease. Her siblings called her “spider baby.” Mia also seemed hypersensitive to fabrics as she always wanted to be without clothes. It was extremely difficult to get her dressed.
Gina Paparella remembers life with Mia being challenging at that time.
“We already had very positive experiences at Children’s Specialized Hospital, so we turned to them for evaluation,” she said. “Mia was diagnosed with sensory integration disorder.”
As occupational and speech therapists assisted Mia in leaps and bounds of growth, they also assisted the Paparella family. They taught them what to do at home to continue Mia’s growth when she was not in therapy.
“The therapists’ actions were always above and beyond any expectation a parent can have,” Gina says.
Though Gina Paparella can’t recall the journey she and her family have been on without shedding tears, she knows the sky is the limit for both of her children.
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Jeannie Brooks
Director of Admissions
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