Pato Gilchrist is a local young man whose life changed after one dive into the lake. He’s not alone. The injuries rise as summertime temps send people to pools and beaches. You can see Part 1 of his story here.
Paralyzed but determined to walk and inspire others, Gilchrist’s progress has been steady, even surprising. And what started as a toe wiggle, brought tears of joy and hope.
“It was like unreal,” he said. “The doctors came into see it and they said it opens up a whole new world of possibilities.”
In April, on the first warm day of spring, Gilchrist was injured after he dove headfirst into the lake.
“I hit the sand the bottom of the lake and I immediately couldn’t feel my legs or my neck,” he said.
The injury changed the course for him.
Even as he struggled to simply sit up, his spirit remained remarkably strong.
“I’ve always known that my voice is extremely powerful and obviously my mind powers that,” he said. “And the fact that my personality was never altered is extremely important to me.”
Lindsay Tobias was Gilchrist’s social studies teacher at New Trier High School.
“He’s someone who when he comes into a room there is so much warmth and enthusiasm for everything and everyone,” she said.
Teachers and friends have been at his side during his stay at Shirley Ryan Ability Lab.
“It hasn’t surprised me at all to see the outpouring from his peers and from the community after his accident because that is what he puts out into the world,” Tobias said. “And I feel like it has just come back ten-fold.”
Just four weeks after WGN’s Medical Watch team’s first visit, what has come back is remarkable.
“Up on the harness, I can move my left leg fully and I don’t need any help with it anymore,” Gilchrist said.
And he can support some of his weight.
“With the harness I think it’s about 70 percent of my weight is lifted and 30 percent of my weight I’m supporting. So they slowly increase that until I can stand up by myself,” he said. “It’s almost like every few days I have another muscle movement. I recently got my trunk muscles back, so that’s really exciting.”
Even his fingers have gotten stronger.
“I can move all my fingers on my left hand now which is huge,” he said.
The gains mark a milestone in his recovery and he celebrated another milestone in late May — he graduated high school.
“It was just an incredible experience and I went up rode up on stage got my diploma and did a little 360 and everyone cheered for me and it was incredible,” he said. “I’m definitely feeling a lot more optimistic.”
Wendy Gilchrist is Pato’s mother.
“He wants to show the world that you can do it and he will be able to do it,” she said. “And I think he will be Pato, always.”
“I have no doubt regardless of what happens. moving forward he will figure out how to make the most of his life and how to live a really fulfilling life,” Tobias said.
“I’m doing great and I’ll keep it up,” he said. “I’ll keep on fighting.”
He is quite the fighter! His doctor calls his recovery “impressive” and says there’s a good chance he’ll be walking on his own within 18 months.
Friends held a fundraiser to help purchase a power wheelchair for Pato. More about those efforts here.
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