GALVESTON, Texas - Sean Carter's steps may be slow and the distance he travels may be short, but inside a gym in Galveston Carter, he is considered a walking miracle.
As he walks, a physical therapy team from the University of Texas Medical Branch tracks his steps, measures his stability and even records every breath he takes.
The research by Dr. Kurt Mossberg and his team is already showing traumatic brain injury patients can walk again. But what you can't see is the amazing heart and determination it took for Carter just to get here.
"He was somebody who couldn't even move," said Jenny Carter, Sean's mom. "What else can you say?"
Sean Carter was all but dead six years ago. He was a 22-year-old college student who went out drinking with his friends. When one of those drinkers drove home, the pickup truck went out of control and slammed into a tree. Sean Carter was in the passenger's seat and took the brunt of the impact. After surviving a coma, he was paralyzed and could not speak.
Local 2 first profiled Sean Carter and his mom last Christmas by showing you how he uses a computer-aided voice in a mission to battle drunk driving. Sean and Jenny Carter founded the non-profit group When Sean Speaks. They travel Texas and the country giving prevention presentations to schools, churches, community groups and even driving while intoxicated offenders.
Earlier this summer, Local 2 showed you Sean Carter's physical therapy sessions at the Transitional Learning Center in Galveston. It was part of a research project led by Mossberg and his UTMB team. They are trying to determine if regular exercise could help an injured brain learn to communicate with muscles again. With his lifetime Medicare benefits already maxed out at age 28, it was therapy Sean Carter could never afford on his own. It was provided free by the research project.
Using a harness system to hold Sean Carter up, his mission to walk began. His first steps with the harness were wobbly and painfully slow. But Sean Carter marched on. Then, with increased stamina and strength, his balance and stability slowly improved.
"We got to the point where we were like, 'Let's just get rid of the harness,'" Mossberg said.
Month after month, Sean Carter and the UTMB team worked three hours a day, five days a week. The result -- Sean Carter can now take real steps for the first time since the accident. There's no wheelchair, just help from a cane and a dedicated mom by his side.
"Our dream was that he would walk away from here," Jenny Carter said. "To us, that's exactly what happened. He's going to walk away. He's walking!"
"It has been absolutely priceless," said Sean Carter. "My improvement is a miracle to me. I will never be able to repay them. I came here as a participant in a research study and I feel like I am walking away with additional family members."
"It puts a lump in my throat when I think about where he was and where he is today," Mossberg said. "He's just so determined. Who knows where he will be in another two months or six months. We were cautiously optimistic at the beginning. Just to look over and see him walking is a great feeling."
Sean Carter's case shows with hard work and determination, intense physical therapy can work wonders in patients with traumatic brain injury. It's his heart and will to improve that proves the value of never giving up.
"No matter what life deals you, there's always the hope of a better future," said Jenny Carter. "You just have to reach for it. I think that's the biggest thing."
With the research project complete, Sean and Jenny Carter are back at home and remain dedicated to improving his mobility. He says he's now walking a quarter of a mile every day.
Sean Carter will be featured on the Texas Department of Transportation's anti-drunk driving campaign early next year. He'll represent victims the statewide media effort. He and his mom begin another speaking tour next month in Dallas.
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