James Hartwell, SCI Survivor

James Hartwell, SCI, rehabilitation, spinal cord injury

“I’m going to walk across the stage at my graduation.”

James' Story Part 1
James entered Challenge Center with a lot of help and little hope.  Two years earlier, at the age of 16, James suffered a central cord injury in his cervical spine in a motocross accident and he spent most of the last two years in a wheelchair.  Although he was unable to get up on his own and still required the help of his father for nearly every basic activity, Hartwell’s insurance company told him they couldn’t cover any more physical therapy.  Without further therapy, James and his family nearly gave up on his reaching his goal of walking again.  It seemed like it might take a miracle.  Luckily they found that miracle in the little white building in La Mesa that holds the Challenge Center. 
After his experience with the limitations and restrictions of insurance covered therapy, at first James wasn’t sure he believed a physical therapist could have his same hope, focus and willingness to try anything to see his dream of walking become a reality.  Then he met his new physical therapist, and Challenge Center’s Executive Director, Tiffany Piquilloud, PT.  Ms. Piquilloud recounts their first meeting in February of 2011 this way: “One of the first things James told me was “I’m going to walk across the stage at my graduation”.  I’m a big believer that “miracles” are often hard work, skill, and perseverance in disguise and you’ll never know until you try.   So his proclamation didn’t shock me or strike me as impossible.   That is until he informed me his graduation was only a few months away in June.  That certainly gave me pause.  When I saw him “walk” after being pulled up out of his chair by his father, strapped into a couple of AFO braces and placed on a platform walker,  stepping with his knees locked and barely able to stay upright; I will admit I was more than a little dubious.   Here he was almost two years after his motocross accident, and after receiving more than a year of therapy. If that’s all the further he got, then I wasn’t at all sure what more we could do.  However, we don’t give up that easily and I quickly found out that James has an amazing attitude and work ethic.  My first time working with James, I showed him a few new techniques for how to move his body and use his legs more normally.  I’m not sure who was more surprised when at the end of that first hour he stood up from his wheelchair on his own for the first time!  Right then I knew we had a real chance to make his graduation day goal”
Coming in day after day, James made improvements beyond all expectations, and his goals stayed large. From physical therapy to CFES to a strong fitness regimen, he was making amazing progress. As the day of graduation approached, he had a real chance. After a shaky start being helped out of his wheelchair and up some steps to the stage, James asked to be let go and started his journey.  Not one false step, no walker, no braces, no help, and not once did he look like he would lose his balance.  Almost every High School Senior is a bit nervous about walking across the stage at graduation.  One can only imagine how brave you have to be to risk falling in front of all of your classmates walking after a cervical Spinal Cord Injury.  James made it across the stage, took his diploma and was rewarded with a standing ovation from all of his classmates and teachers that went on forever.   James walked proudly and we were so proud of him. 
James is now looking forward to his new goals, running, probably late to college classes in 3D animation and graphic design.
   To be continued....