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Justin is a 7 year old boy who was born with a syndrome that has a very large tongue and a cleft palate called Beckwith-Wiedemann Syndrome.  Justin’s tongue was so large that it impacted his ability to breath, swallow and eat.  It was surgically ‘reduced’ by a long-time friend and colleague of Dr. D’Antonio’s, Dr. Jeff Marsh in St Louis who has extensive experience with this procedure.


Even after surgery, Justin continued to have a severe speech impairment.  The next clinical question for Justin was whether a surgery for his cleft palate would make it easier for him to speak.  Dr. Marsh arranged for Dr. D’Antonio to evaluate Justin and work with him to determine if more surgery was indicated and to assist Justin in improving his speech.


When Dr. D’Antonio first met Justin, he did not move his mouth or tongue for vowels or consonant sounds.  It was a big job to get Justin motivated to move his tongue and lips to make speech sounds and to want to communicate orally.  Enter Kanzu the speech therapy assistant.  Kanzu is a Rhodesian Ridgeback Dog owned by Dr. D’Antonio.  He is a registered therapy dog.  Justin met Kanzu who demonstrated for Justin how to ‘speak’  and soon repeat visits became the motivator and reinforcer for Justin’s speech therapy drills.


Rhodesian Ridgebacks are fairly large dogs.  Kanzu measures 28 inches at the shoulders and weighs almost 100 pounds.  When Justin met Kanzu, his first impulse was to try to climb right on him to ride him.  Kanzu was a very patient assistant and allowed lots of hugging and snuggling and even a quick mount.  When we shared the photo of Justin and Kanzu with Dr. Marsh, he commented; “I love Justin’s enthusiasm and Kanzu’s tolerance”.


Kanzu is a fantastic speech therapy assistant and seems to love the attention.  And best yet, Justin is improving rapidly and speaking more.  He especially loves to watch videos of Kanzu doing agility and calls out commands to Kanzu as he watches along with the run…..he gets great speech practice as Justin tells Kanzu:  “over”,” table”,  “jump”, “climb it”,  “tire”,  “tunnel”!  And, when Kanzu’s son Kuyu entered the picture as a therapy-dog-in-training, Justin gained increased motivation to produce the ‘K’ sound.