Paraplegic teen swims with dolphins
ISLAMORADA, Fla. (WSVN) -- A South Florida teen paralyzed from the waist down after a stray bullet injured his spinal cord is learning to swim again with the help of several friendly marine mammals.
"It's fun," said 15-year-old Aaron Willis. "I didn't even know if I was going to live or not, but now I'm in the water swimming with dolphins."
Willis was hit by a stray bullet a few days before Christmas 2012 while riding his bike on Northwest Eighth Street and First Avenue near Wynwood. The single bullet hit his back and severed his spine, paralyzing him.
Eight months later, after ongoing therapy with Jackson Memorial Hospital's aquatic rehabilitation program, Aaron and therapist Cathy Herring joined six other paraplegic and quadriplegics as they swam and danced with dolphins in Islamorada on Friday.
Trainers said one of the benefits of having dolphins interact with physically disabled patients is that the mammals can detect their comfort and discomfort to help work with them accordingly. One dolphin was seen planting a kiss on Aaron Willis' cheek, something trainers said the animals are fond of doing.
"They've actually practiced all summer doing their transfers, learning how to swim, learning how to float, learning how to roll in the water," said Herring, who heads JMH's aquatic program, about her patients.
Herring, who trains Aaron personally, raises money for recreational therapy by selling hot dogs every year. "Aaron is such a hard worker," she said.
Aaron's mother, Katherine Beaton, watched her son floating on his back, hand-cycling and swimming. "He got shot at; I thought I was going to lose my boy, but I didn't," she said. "Look at how it paid off, so everything is great."
Beaton said Aaron, a school athlete before he was shot, may not be able to play football or run track, but he is making strides in and out of the water every day. "It brings joy to my heart, just to see him swimming, just swimming," she said, "and he's swimming with dolphins. What can a mother say about that?"
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