When Michelle Barlow’s two children were diagnosed with late-infantile neuronal ceroid lipofuscinosis, a terminal neurodegenerative disorder, when they were each 3 years old, Barlow saw firsthand the benefits of massage therapy.

“We chose to not use life-extending procedures and care for our children at home,” said Barlow in a Cortiva press release. A physical therapist and a hospice counselor performed massage therapy on the children and taught Barlow how to massage her children herself.

“Because their muscle atrophy was treated with massage, the children were made more comfortable and were in less pain,” Barlow said. “Massage lessened the need for pain medicines and would sometimes even put big smiles on their faces.”

“There were times that all the kids wanted was to be touched,” she added. “It made them feel secure and less scared.”

Although both children—Kaliann and Tyler—died from the disorder when they were 5 years old and 4 years old, respectively, their legacy lives on in Barlow’s hands.

Barlow is now a student at Cortiva Institute’s Wall, New Jersey, campus, from which she will graduate later this month, and was recently awarded the campus’ $1,000 Founders Scholarship.

Cortiva Institute is a community of massage therapy schools with 11 locations nationwide.

“We were impressed with the way she took a difficult situation and used it as a motivator and not an excuse or a crutch,” said campus president Jeff Mann, in explaining why Barlow received the scholarship. “Michelle’s journey has been an inspiration to all of us, but even more so, it is her desire to use what she learned caring for her own children to benefit others.”