Every year as the weather warms up and people go to pools and beaches, injuries rise.
The first nice day of this year’s Spring was the last time a young man stood on his own. A diving accident left him paralyzed.
But he is determined to walk and warn others.
18-year-old Pato Gilchrist lives with his family just one block from the beach in WIlmette. On the day of his accident, the weather was warm and the water was low.
“The first dive in I dove in headfirst, and I hit the sand the bottom of the lake,” he said.
WGN’s Medical Watch team first visited Gilchrist two weeks after his accident at the Shirley Ryan Ability Lab.
Lauren Rizio is an occupational therapist.
“Over the summer there is a percentage of our caseload here that is diving injuries,” she said. “(Gilchrist) has a cervical spinal cord injury at about the C7 level.”
He undergoes intense therapy three hours a day, re-learning the basics that were washed away in the water.
“I got to the hospital relatively fast and before I went into surgery my dad showed up and that was reassuring,” Gilchrist said. “I told him that as long as I can see and I can think and I can speak that I’ll be ok. And that I just wanted to live coming out of it.”
Instead of a classroom at New Trier High School, the senior spent his final weeks of high school at Shirley Ryan Ability Lab.
“It’s been incredible here,” he said.
Friends and teachers of Pato – which means “duck” in Spanish — have showered him with love and support.
“My personality was never altered,” he said. “I think it is especially important to me and I’m still able to be the person I was before and kind of be kind to everybody.”
“I think he’s incredible,” Rizio said. “When he first got here, he needed full assistance for feeding himself, dressing himself, any sort of washing grooming, anything like that. … Do we know if it’s going to come back or not? Not sure. We need to figure out how to move on with life with what we have right in front of us right now.”
Jacqueline Katz is a physical therapist at Shirley Ryan Ability Lab.
“With the injury to his spinal cord, not all the messages can get to different muscle groups,” she said. “So where the spinal cord is injured below that level he’s not able to activate those muscles. … He’s been making really good progress and able to move himself around better each week.”
In fact, just one week later, he was able to move his toe.
What does that little movement mean? Pato, his family, his doctors and therapists had big hopes. See his progress in Part 2 of this story.
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