When 13-year-old Ricky Barker was struck by a car while riding his bicycle last month, the impact detached his skull from his spinal column. It was an injury doctors say few would survive, and those who did would be paralyzed from the neck down.
Since Barker's neck ligaments had been severed in the crash, only his skin and some muscles held his skull to his body.
Explained Dr. Kim Manwaring, a pediatric neurosurgeon at Phoenix Children's Hospital: "The head was tilted off from the top of the spine."
The boy's doctors compared Barker's neck injury to the one that left actor Christopher Reeve a quadriplegic.
And Manwaring said he had to embark on a risky surgery in order to save the boy from almost certain quadriplegic paralysis.
Using metal hardware — a system of titanium rods and screws — Manwaring and a fellow surgeon reattached Barker's skull.
After the attachment was complete, Manwaring added a bone-inducing protein.
"It will make a solid fusion over many months. Eventually that will make his [Barker's] head and spine completely safe," Manwaring said.
Then, just one day after the risky surgery, the teen began moving his right leg again.
His mother, Amanda Barker-Nielsen, said Barker was even trying to communicate by blinking his eyes.
Because he is currently hooked up to a ventilator, the boy remains unable to speak
Whether or not Barker will fully recover from the neck injury remains to be seen, according to Manwaring.
While he has regained the use of his right arm, his left arm remains paralyzed and the use his left leg is just starting to come back. Although Barker won't be able to attend the rest of the school year, his family says they feel fortunate about his progress.
"You know, if he never got movement in this [left] side again it's OK, because we have the right side," Barker-Nielsen said. "And then the left leg started to move. [It's a] bonus. A little bit extra."
Manwaring says the 13-year-old will be in the hospital for some time, as he continues to recover, but he says Barker's life is so much better than it could have turned out given the severity of his injuries.
Manwaring says it's rare for people to survive such an injury, not to mention the surgery that followed.
"Ricky is as lucky as kids get," Manwaring said.