Dec. 8, 2006 — -- A 3-year-old paralyzed Kentucky boy learned to walk again after trying a therapy that was financed by the Christopher Reeve Foundation's Neuro-Recovery Network.
The image is forever ingrained in our memory: "Superman" actor Christopher Reeve, suspended over a treadmill. He was one of the first to try this radical new therapy known as locomotor training, developed by Dr. Susan Harkema, professor of neurosurgery at the Kentucky Spinal Injury Research Center.
"The spinal cord itself has a great capacity to learn, to remember, to forget and to make decisions," Harkema said. "And the spinal cord can do that even when it's disconnected from the brain."
The therapy reteaches the spinal cord how to control motor functions, like walking, through repetitive motion. After 15 years of experimentation, the therapy has now helped hundreds of spinal cord injury victims to be healthier and some to even walk.
That miracle is now giving hope to thousands more, including one young mother, Renee Ford, whose 2-year-old son, Chase, hit his head while jumping on a couch, injuring his spinal cord.
"He was pale white... He was shaking, crying uncontrollably. I couldn't even stop him," Ford said. "Chase hit his head so hard that it bruised the central spinal cord area. ... He was actually paralyzed from the neck down."
The prognosis was a parent's worst nightmare.
"To hear that Chase did this much damage to his body, a little tiny body, and he's going to be in a wheelchair forever..." Ford said, crying.
A month after the accident, Harkema accepted Chase into the locomotor training.
"When I first saw him, he could not move his arms and legs at all," Harkema said.
The center had never had a patient so young, but Chase responded to the therapy.
"The first day we stepped him on the treadmill he came off and he was crying," Harkema said. "And his leg moved out and moved back in and that's when I knew that there was a lot of hope for him."