At Kelsar integrative care offered by physical therapy practioners

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Diane Fournier tells clients right up front that she's not your typical physical therapist.

Thirty years ago she was, but that all changed with the birth of her second daughter, Kelsey, who was diagnosed at nine months with cerebral palsy and later with an intellectual disability.

Today, Kelsey is 30 and lives in a group home in New London, but it was her diagnoses that led her mother to explore the alternative treatments such as craniosacral therapy that are offered at her business, Kelsar Physical Therapy, with offices in Norwich and Stonington.

Kelsar is named for Fournier's two daughters — Kelsey and older sister Sarah, who will join her mother in the practice when she completes the doctorate in physical therapy that she is working on at the  University of Hartford.

Fournier was working as a PT when her daughters were born, and opened her own business in 1990, about two years after she started taking classes in alternative therapies.

Her introduction to manual therapies such as cranialsacral, myofacial release and lymph drainage happened as a direct result of Kelsey's cerebral palsy diagnosis.

Kelsey was born six weeks premature and initially her parents and pediatrician attributed her delayed development to her early birth, not a congenital disorder. But as the months passed and Kelsey missed major milestones, Diane and her husband, Mark Fournier, and the pediatrician suspected there was a problem.

"Pediatrics was not my specialty," said Diane Fournier. "I was doing adult orthopedics — ambulatory care, hip replacements, knee replacements — you know, things like that. I didn't do pediatrics at all, and in fact it was the only rotation in my entire career that I didn't like.

"But then I ended up having a kid and I didn't know anything about the pediatric world, and I thought, 'So now I have to start looking into what the heck am I going to do about this now.'"

What she did is attend a physical therapy conference in Windsor Locks and it was there that she met a practitioner, Sharon Weiselfish, who specialized in integrative manual therapy.

Weiselfish, who is now deceased, agreed to see Kelsey and those treatments helped to improve her daughter's life, said Fournier. To this day, Kelsey goes monthly for cranialsacral and routine physical therapy treatments.

Fournier described cranialsacral as noninvasive and said it involves bones in the body and the ability to alleviate stress and pain.

"So the tail bone is connected to the back bone, and the back bone is connected to the rib bone, and rib bone is connected to the head bone, and guess what, through that head bone you can affect every single nerve route and every single system in the entire body," said Fournier. "And when I found this out, I thought, 'Oh my God, this is a miracle, how come I didn't know about this?'"

Today, Fournier's practices offer both traditional and manual therapies. She employs five physical therapists as well as an officer manager, assistant manager and student practitioners. She started with the Norwich office in 1990, and opened her Stonington site, which she recently expanded, eight years ago.

Kelsar prides itself on offering hands-on, one-on-one treatment, with one therapist working on a single patient at a single time, something other practices don't typically do, said Fournier.

On the first visit, the patient is interviewed and assessed, and then assigned to the most appropriate therapist, depending on their condition and needs.

At the Stonington office, which tripled its size in May, Fournier has added a Pilates studio and a balance and falls risk assessment program. Clients interested in the assessment, or Pilates classes, may call or check the website.

Her personal focus is on the non-traditional treatments, which account for about 50 percent of the clients that she sees, she said.

"I prefer to call it integrative care, not alternative, because when you say alternative, people think voodoo stuff," said Fournier. "And that is not what this is."

She's convinced that the manual therapies have improved Kelsey's life, compared to what it might have been.

Soon after Kelsey began receiving cranialsacral therapy (Fournier has never worked on her own daughter) her parents noticed improvements.

"I had started taking classes so I could learn about it, too, and I'm thinking in my head, if this is making a difference for a kid with brain damage, what the heck is it going to do for someone with back pain?" recalled Fournier.

Today Fournier said she is witness to the improved quality of life and relief from pain and dysfunction that she sees in her patients. And, to this day, she's convinced the treatments have helped Kelsey, allowing her to be more comfortable, engaged and happy.

"People think I have magic," said Fournier. "And I say, 'Hey people, here's the magic. I got a kid without a voice. I'm a mother. I had to do something to help her. ... And now you're gonna benefit from that. That's all it is. There's no magic here.'"

a.baldelli@theday.com

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