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5-Year-Old Chase is Walking Again

Chase and Renee FordIt was June 2005 and Chase Ford had just turned 2-years-old. He was jumping on the couch when he fell backwards and hit his head on the couch's arm. He didn't even fall to the floor.

The doctors diagnosed him as having a "contusion of the spinal cord." Chase was now paralyzed.

"Emotionally it's a very difficult thing to really wrap your head around," says Chase's mom, Renee Ford. "You don't understand the gravity of a spinal cord injury. How could he cause that much damage to himself? He was running and playing, and riding his tricycle, and waiting to play baseball with his brother, and now his life is altered because of that instant."

Chase has an older brother, who was 5 at the time of his injury, and his mom was eight months pregnant with his new baby sister.

"How do you explain that to a two-year-old," asks Renee, "that his life as he once knew it is it changed forever? As a parent you try to figure out what is the best thing to do. You go on the Internet. You try to figure out who is going to be able to help your child. You're hoping that what the doctors are telling you is an incorrect statement."

Finding Reason for Hope
Chase was at Frazier Rehab Institute in Louisville, Kentucky for about a month. He hadn't been making any progress. Chase's doctor wanted to get him into the Reeve Foundation's NeuroRecovery Network Center at Frazier for his therapy.

The NeuroRecovery Network (NRN) is a group of cutting-edge rehabilitation centers around the country. The therapists at these centers are trained in intensive activity-based treatments.

The Locomotor Training that NRN centers are now deploying is the result of research that the Reeve Foundation began supporting decades ago. The program involves suspending patients in harnesses over treadmills while therapists move their legs to simulate walking.

Less then a month after his injury, Chase was evaluated for a spot in the NRN. To get in to the program Chase needed to show he had some potential to regain movement.

"The therapist put him on the treadmill on July 5th for about 30 minutes and he was screaming," Renee can laugh now as she remembers the scene. "He was so mad. When the trainer took him off the treadmill, his leg came out like he was trying to kick her. After she saw the leg movement she was like, 'I'll see you tomorrow and every day from here on out at 1:30. We can't make any promises, but we'll see what we can do.'"

Chase was the youngest child to ever undergo this type of therapy.

The Up Hill Climb
"When I first got the opportunity to work with Chase he was unable to stand, and he was unable to walk by himself without assistive devices," says Lee Smith, Chase's physical therapist for the last year.

"Bribes, lots of bribes," says Smith when asked how he got a 3-year-old to take on the physical rigors of training five-days-a-week. "I think he thought therapy was more of a punishment. He didn't want to do it because we were asking him to do stuff he wasn't able to perform. But now that he's able to stand and walk, he loves it. Now his reward is he gets to walk."

"He does understand now," says Renee. "I think as time has gone on, he has probably lost some of the memory of what happened. He keeps pictures, and he asks me, 'What's that around my neck? What's that in my nose?' I don't think he remembers the neck brace or the feeding tube or anything like that, but he still remembers the accident, he still remembers hitting his head."

Renee admits that she and her husband have had a harder time adapting to Chase's injury than their son. "It's very hard to go to family functions and see your child, who cannot play with others or run with others, sitting over in a corner by himself, playing."

"And he's okay with that," she continues. "He never cried about it or once said anything like, 'Why isn't anyone playing with me, why isn't anyone over here?'"

Although, Chase was not himself. "We would take him outside," remembers Renee. "He loved airplanes and motorcycles, and he could really care less about seeing them. He would not see you, or he would not acknowledge your existence at the beginning."

The doctor told her Chase was depressed.

"What do you do for a child who's two and depressed?" Renee asks.  The NRN changed Chase's outlook. As he progressed in his therapy, and became more mobile, his attitude and his personality changed.

Now, Renee says, "Chase is becoming the old Chase. Chase before the injury was daredevilish. That mischievous smile, that's the old Chase. He was the one that 'No' was not really in his vocabulary. And he was funny. He would just do things that would make you laugh."

Three years after his injury Chase walks over one hundred yards independently -- no walker, no one helping. "If we get him to concentrate," says Smith, "We can get him to where he is stepping foot flat, so instead of being on his toes you go to foot flat and then you go to heal strike like you and I walk."

"All he's asking me now is," says Smith, "How can I get to run?"

A New Beginning
"I've seen a lot of positives come out of this," shares Renee. "I'm very proud of him for what he's accomplished, that he has the determination he's had as a young child not to give up. But then again, he had people behind him that sort of said he can't give up, so giving up was not an option."

"Chase has really influenced a lot of people," says Renee proudly. "We've been with the Reeve Foundation on a couple of getaways, and people say that Chase gives them hope, or the hope that they have lost has been put back within them. I've seen people who have gotten out of wheelchairs and said if Chase can walk so can I."

Follow the Money
"Seriously, some of the funding we've gotten from you guys (the Reeve Foundation) has meant the difference between sending people home in a chair and sending people home with no assistive devices," says Smith. "You've given us the ability on a number of occasions to not have to think about the money for therapy, and to be able to just solely focus on the recovery of the person in front of us."

"We're finding out about what we are capable of doing,' says Smith." There are a lot of other people out there that we could be able to help if we just had the funding."

More on Chase Ford
- Walking back-to-school
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Continue Christopher Reeve's LegacyPhoto by Timothy Greenfield-Sanders