Stepping Towards Hope, Photos of Perseverance in Colorado as presented by: Denver Post

For hundreds of years, a spinal injury meant never walking again. Now researchers know the spine can learn. The paralyzed have hope. Exhausting new therapies teach the spine to have a mind of its own. The Denver Post’s in-depth project “Stepping Toward Hope” chronicles the efforts of remarkable patients suffering spinal-cord injuries taking advantage of new science and locomotor therapy that may allow them to walk again. Intense struggles, aching despair and remarkable effort are all part of their grueling stories explored by Denver Post photographers Craig Walker, AAron Ontiveroz and R.J. Sangosti. Karen Gorden said her daughter, Mackenzie, loved the pool workouts because of the freedom, and the chance to more closely approximate walking at Craig Hospital. "Gravity is not working against her," Karen said. Mackenzie Gorden’s teenage life somersaulted last year when she swerved to avoid a deer near her Iowa hometown and rolled her pickup truck into a ditch. The cheerleader had her neck rebuilt at Minnesota’s Mayo Clinic, but Mackenzie has now come to Colorado twice for extensive, intensive therapy sessions aimed at teaching her spine and legs to walk again despite an injured connection to her brain. For James Nall a crawling exercise is his toughest task at Craig Hospital in Englewood, CO. "You gotta crawl before you can walk. I gotta retrain everything. I'm like a giant kid -- a big baby." Nall’s fast-moving life as a restaurant manager, runner and fun-loving friend came to a sharp halt on a routine trip to his basement laundry room a few years ago. Despite the grimacing and pain, James was pleasantly surprised at his first October attempt to walk after a summer break from intensive physical therapy at Craig Hospital. With the aid of therapists and electrical stimulation on his right knee, he took three laps around the gym. "Psychologically and emotionally, that's a huge lift," he said. "It's awesome. It made my freakin' week."

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