Alumni Profiles, Giving Back

Reaching New Heights

JenFu Cheng, NJMS’99

JenFu Cheng uses rock climbing to aid his young patients with neuromuscular conditions.

JenFu Cheng climbing on an indoor rock wallAs a committed rock climber, JenFu Cheng appreciates the sport’s capacity to strengthen his body and boost his dexterity. As a physician, Cheng NJMS’99 uses rock climbing to bring those benefits to his young patients with cerebral palsy and other neuromuscular conditions, helping them develop hand, upper and lower body, and core strength.

For 13 years, Cheng has been working with kids at Children’s Specialized Hospital, in Mountainside, New Jersey, where he is section chief of physiatry. Physiatrists treat a variety of medical conditions affecting the brain, spinal cord, nerves, bones, joints, ligaments, muscles, and tendons.

“Almost half of cerebral palsy patients have hand and/or upper extremity weakness, tightness, and shaking,” he says. “Often their fists are clenched, greatly limiting their activities. We try to improve that” by teaching the patients how to use a climbing wall. “It’s a very effective way of helping kids with hand impairments,” Cheng adds. The facility also provides physical and occupational therapy, medication, and even Botox injections, which ease muscle contractions.

Peak Potential, a nonprofit organization that Cheng started several years ago, is bringing rock climbing to more children with disabilities. Staffed by volunteers, Peak Potential runs indoor climbing programs at four locations in New Jersey.

Cheng delights in introducing patients to his favorite sport. “A child comes in using a walker,” he says. “Maybe he or she will climb halfway up the wall. It’s great therapy, it builds their confidence, and it’s fun.”

Story originally published in Rutgers Magazine.