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Matt Courson learns to take steps again after spinal injury

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(KTHV) — A few years ago, if someone was diagnosed with a paralyzing spinal cord injury, the idea of that patient ever walking again would be out of the question.

But new technology and therapy have made it possible for some people to regain some movement in their legs — helping them to take some major steps.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta shows us how an Arkansas man is an example of overcoming the odds.

Like a lot of little boys, Matt Courson loved sports. So much that he eventually ended up as a star pitcher with the University of Arkansas. But that all changed in April of 2006 when he decided to drive his four-wheeler over to a friend’s house. He never made it.

“My four wheeler went off a 20 foot embankment, knocked me out and I had a little memory loss and the next day I was found by a fireman.”

His backbone was shattered; his doctors said he would never walk again. But Courson was a young man who didn’t understand the word “never.” “That doctor thinks I’m not going to walk again…I will walk again.”

A year after his injury, Courson moved to Baltimore, Maryland to work with specialists at the center for spinal cord injury at the Kennedy Krieger institute. He began an extensive rehab regiment, designed to help patients with chronic spinal cord injuries recover sensation and movement in their legs.

“One basis of our program is to use modern technology to move someone who is paralyzed using their own nervous system.”

The therapy includes gait training, and water therapy, along with functional electronic stimulation, known a FES. FES uses a computer to send electrical impulses to a patient’s legs, causing them to contract and relax while riding a bicycle. It does the work that the brain would normally do.

As Courson’s sessions progressed, so did his recovery. He began to move his toes. He’s been able to walk 300 feet with the use of leg braces and a walker. Matt also went back to school to finish his degree at the University of Maryland, determined not to accept his diploma in a wheelchair.

“Things just don’t happen, you have to make them happen,” he says. So on May 23 of this year, Courson walked across the stage at his graduation.

Although Courson has a long way to go before he can walk without assistance, his doctors and family believe he’s gonna do it. But no one believes it more than Courson. “One day I’m going to play that game of catch with my son, one day I’m going to walk my daughter down the aisle. There’s no doubt in my mind.”

Written by Amanda Terrebonne

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