Level of Injury: Between T-3 to T-7
Cause of Paralysis: Complication from surgery
Age at Onset: 4 months

Erin and Jade Buckles are singing. Like most twins, they share an incredibly close bond: Jade makes up a song and Erin joins in as though she’s always known it. But then Jade runs outside to play and Erin’s smile fades. To join her sister in the adventure of the yard, she’ll have to be carried. And so, as much as she loves the sunshine and air, she turns to her mother and says: “I don’t want to go outside because I can’t do anything.”

Born conjoined, Erin and Jade underwent separation surgery at 4 months old. The 6-hour operation, coordinated by an expert team of medical professionals, was successful. Already nicknamed “miracle girls” by their parents, the sisters’ story was growing ever more miraculous.

Returning home triumphant, the girls set about recovering from the operation. Because her abdominal muscles were severed during surgery, no one was concerned when Erin couldn’t move her legs. But three months later, during routine vaccination shots, Jade screamed at the prick of the needle. “Erin,” says her mother Melissa, “didn’t even bat an eyelash. She just kept smiling away. I knew then that something was seriously wrong.”

Her parents had prepared themselves for every outcome from the surgery. Every outcome but the ischemic attack (or stroke) to her spinal cord during the operation—and their daughter’s resulting paralysis. 

Four years later, Melissa says she’s worked through her denial, anger and frustration. She credits her husband with helping her process what happened. “On the days when I was having a hard time, he’d remind me we’re going to do whatever it takes. He’s my rock.”

One thing they’ve done is to get Erin into a regular routine on the pediatric version of the RT300. The Buckles first witnessed the technology at the Kennedy Krieger Institute, when Erin was still too little to utilize it. They measured her regularly, willing her to grow long enough to qualify for the RT300. Now she uses the RT300 at least 4 days a week for about 35 minutes, covering 4.2 miles during each session.

Melissa has seen huge improvements in her daughter’s muscle mass throughout her glutes, quads and hamstrings. She also happily reports there have been no bouts with pneumonia this year. Erin’s cardiovascular system gets a workout, and she’s healthier overall. “It’s amazing technology, the way the computer works with the individual’s body, controlling spasms. I know sometimes it’s an issue with insurance, but RTI really tries their best to work with insurance companies to get you what you need.”

There’s a smile in Melissa’s voice as she describes her miracle girl. “She’s the happiest little girl you’ll meet. She loves drawing and painting and any kind of arts and crafts. She loves singing and dancing her own form of dancing. She loves Hannah Montana.”

And, like any 4-year-old, she sometimes needs coaxing to do what’s good for her. So if the promise of a DVD doesn’t convince her daughter to workout, Melissa has another way: “I tell her, you have to get on so you’ll walk someday. It’s not a question. She knows there’s going to be hard work ahead in order to get stronger. And that gets her on the RT300.”

“For us, it’s always been about doing everything we can for our kids. You don’t ever want to look back and regret not doing something. We always keep pushing forward. We’re doing everything we can to make sure her body is ready. We know we’re giving Erin the best chance possible to walk someday.”

And when that day comes, the first thing Erin will do is join her sister outside.

Melissa Buckles, mother of Erin Buckles