“I realized, you know, I have my brain, I have my smile, I have my body. It’s just that I have to move around life differently, but I’m still me. I’m just sitting in a chair. That’s the only difference."
- Jackson Larson
Jackson sustained a spinal cord injury when he was 16 years old, the result of a car accident. The injury thrust Jackson, who stands a tall 6’2’’, into a new reality of life in a wheelchair.
Instead of giving up, Jackson made the decision to embrace his new reality.
As an inpatient at Gillette Children’s Specialty Healthcare, Jackson learned how to adapt to his different abilities. He built strength. He continued to think positive—an attitude reaffirmed by his Gillette therapists.
“Just being in a wheelchair was difficult. Pushing—the strength was just incredibly challenging. But then, after time, with the therapies and the determination by both me and my therapists, it helped strengthen me day by day. Going one step at a time and eventually getting to where I am today. I’m very thankful for all those positive and helpful people in my life.”
Jackson is now 22 years old. He drives a car, plays adaptive softball and basketball, and goes to college. But he misses the feeling of walking and standing upright. He misses being at eye level with his friends and family.
Last year, Jackson discovered the ReWalk robotic exoskeleton—advanced technology that allows individuals who have paraplegia to walk upright. With the ability to balance and strong upper body strength, he made an ideal candidate. For months Jackson worked with Gillette physical therapists Amy Schulz and Janna Neher to learn how to operate the high-tech device.
“As soon as I got into it for the first time I was like wow this is amazing because I was just able to be myself. My legs were so loose afterward and I just felt great.”
But Jackson wanted to do more. He wanted to receive insurance approval for his very own ReWalk. After a joint effort between his Gillette therapists, ReWalk representatives and Jackson himself, Jackson became the first person in Minnesota to be approved for a ReWalk for use at home and in his community.
“There are many people that use it for therapy, but actually being able to go out in the environment and just use it…using it in everyday life will be excellent. Lots of prayers and my prayers were answered.”
“I’ve had dreams where I’m either floating or I’m in my chair or I’m walking. As I got closer and closer to being approved for the ReWalk I was having dreams about walking.”
Jackson’s ReWalk arrived at Gillette in May 2016. As part of the training process, Jackson must undergo intensive physical therapy to prove he can safely master the device. He’s also required to have a “buddy” trained in assisting him.
“And that’s where my brother comes into play. Even before my injury, me and my brother had a very close connection. With my injury, he was always there.”
After three months of multiple physical therapy sessions a week, Jackson celebrated his last training session on September 20, 2016. It’s a moment Jackson has dreamed of ever since he first learned about the ReWalk more than a year ago. He has many plans for using his new ReWalk.
“I’m planning on at least an hour a day to get upright and move around and stretch my legs, stretch my body. I plan on building up my tolerance and maybe having a day trip. I was envisioning going to a Twins game with my brother and just being able to walk around Target Field.”
On Sept. 20, 2016, a throng of family members, friends and Gillette rehabilitation therapists cheered Jackson on as he finished his final training session before bringing his ReWalk home. Jackson, a Minnesota Twins fan, was surprised by mascot T.C. Bear and first baseman Joe Mauer, who presented him with a "license to walk." KARE 11 also documented the exciting culmination of Jackson's journey.