Diagnosis: SCI
Level of Injury: T12
Cause: Car accident
Age at onset: 10

David won’t—or simply can’t—talk about the car accident that changed his son’s life.  “It’s very emotional,” he says. It sounds like his voice is breaking. “I’m still not over it. It’s difficult to talk about.”

But when he talks about the care Chris has received since, he goes full force. “We were thrown into this whole new world of paralysis. It blindsided us—it would anyone. We didn’t know what to ask, what to look for, what we were supposed to be doing. You don’t know who to listen to.”

“When my wife took Chris to a rehab facility in Philadelphia, they had an RT300 FES system but they didn’t want to put Chris on it. They said, ‘No, he’s not the type for RT300 FES.’ They didn’t give us a lot of encouragement.
“We were at another facility here in Tampa. I really pressed the people there about the RT300 FES system. They said it would be a waste of time. They said Chris would use it a little and then put it aside. Now, in hindsight, I recognize what a terrible thing that was to have said. They also told us we should let his muscles atrophy! Their theory was that it would make his limbs lighter so he’d be easier to transfer!!”

Needless to say, that idea didn’t go over well with David. He had no intention of letting his son’s body atrophy just to make it easier to care for him.

“That was their attitude at that place: accept what’s happened and quit trying to think Chris’ legs were still there. You know, I understand that you don’t want to give false hope. I understand that you need to get on with your life—I get that. But they said his muscles would get in the way of transfer. Can you believe that? I thought, ‘Who knows, in a year, five years, ten years—who knows what scientific progress will be made? I won’t let my son’s legs go to nothing. They said, ‘He’s got no feeling below the waist. He’s not going to walk. Deal with that and get on with life.’ Well, I have a different attitude. I want his legs to be workable when they find a cure.”

David’s research led him to Restorative Therapies, who happened to be in Orlando for a tradeshow in the spring of 2009. Chris used the RT300 system for the first time there. After ten minutes of seeing his son on the RT300, watching the muscles contract, David was ready to purchase the RT300. That summer, Chris’s very own RT300 was delivered.

“I think it’s helped him in many ways,” says David. 

The most obvious way it’s helping Chris is with his muscles—the opposite effect from what the first rehab facility recommended. “His muscle tone and his legs look good. He’s got great muscle tone.” (So much for those easy transfers!)

“Also,” David says, “people who sit all day have issues with sores. It’s helped with that. I think his overall health has improved. In fact, I don’t think he’s been sick once. He hasn’t had issues with bladder infections either. I don’t know if the RT300 is the reason, but he’s had no health issues—it’s rather unusual.”

Something else his father notes: “The hospital originally told us we’d have to get up every four hours and turn him. And we just didn’t know how we would manage that. They said otherwise he’d get sores and have health problems. You know what? None of that has turned out to be true. None of it. He’s a normal kid who sleeps all night and wakes up in the morning. We’ve never had to turn him. They had us thinking we’d have to buy a special bed! Well, maybe that’d be true for some people, but not Chris.”

Chris’ mother adds, “We really think the RT300 has helped keep his muscles and legs from atrophying. We know others who are not using the RT300 and they have had some health problems.  Chris has never had a single bladder infection. I think the increased circulation is keeping him healthy.”

Chris’ mother is as determined as his father to help Chris walk someday. “People need to stay in good shape because of the breakthroughs they’re working on. The kids in good shape are going to have a better chance of recovering then the ones who haven’t been doing anything. That’s why we’ve been encouraging Chris to stick with this. He’s going to have a better shot. It’s amazing, when people see him in the chair, they assume he’s mobile because his legs aren’t atrophied at all.”

It’s a good thing Chris is so healthy. He has a lot on his plate for a 13 year old. First of all, there are his physical goals to be met.

“My goal is to use my RT300 15 days out of the month,” he says. “I usually hit it unless we go on vacation.” What motivates him? “It’s fun to be in shape. I feel stronger. And my legs look a lot better than when I first had the accident. Also, I play video games during my therapy sessions that are 1 hour long. But once in awhile I do two sessions in a day. Sometimes it doesn’t feel like you’re therapy.” (Those video games probably have something to do with that.) After a session, Chris says he feels tired. But it’s a “good tired.”

He needs the strength the RT300 provides. He has a lot of competitive tennis to play. “It’s pretty much my favorite thing to do,” he says. “I love the game and I like that I can play it with friends.”  He takes on his friends who are not in wheelchairs.

“He would play tennis every single day if he could,” his father chimes in. “The U.S. Tennis Association gave him a wheelchair because they saw how much he loves it. He goes out every day. He’s getting pretty good. He can get to pretty much any ball.” Good enough that he’ll be playing a series of USTA tournaments this year.  This is one kid to watch.

Another item on Chris’ list of hobbies is guitar. “I can play two songs: Stairway to Heaven and Hotel California. I’m taking guitar lessons.”

Chris also manages to fit in a full schedule of football and baseball watching. His favorite teams, he says, are the Saints and the Packers. “What about the Buccaneers!” his father interjects. “That’s where you live!” Chris ignores him. “I’d like to play more rock-and-roll music. I’m starting a band on Saturday.”

Apparently, Chris’ situation may not seem typical, but he’s still a typical teen. 

David Herman, father