Holiday Hope: Paralyzed teen learns to walk again - WNCT

Holiday Hope: Paralyzed teen learns to walk again

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WASHINGTON, N.C. - With each careful step, 17-year-old Anderson Potter is thankful.

"I feel very fortunate and lucky that I’ve been able to make the progress," Anderson says.

Four years ago, doctors told the Beaufort County teenager he would never walk again. At just 13 years old, he was paralyzed after a friend accidentally shot him in the back while carrying a hunting rifle down a flight of stairs. It was just two days after Christmas.

"It was tough,” Anderson says, wiping away tears. “You're going to get me crying...."

"As a father, the first thing I thought about was what his future is going to hold as a paraplegic, his first diagnosis,” says Anderson’s father, Lee Potter. “You look at your child and of course, you have hopes and dreams of what they can be and of course, some of those dreams were changed that day."

"It really brought my spirit down,” Anderson continues. “It kind of took me to a place I’ve never been before. It was like a low point in my life.”

But it was a low point he and his family weren't willing to accept.

Internet research led them to the Shepherd Center in Atlanta, a nonprofit specialty hospital dedicated to rehabilitating patients with spinal cord and brain injuries. Combined with physical therapy at Vidant Medical Center in Greenville, Anderson slowly, but surely started making progress.

"He puts his whole heart into everything he does and he's got that internal drive that I wish I could just take and give to other patients,” says Cheri Hill, Anderson’s pediatric physical therapist at Vidant Medical Center.

Over the past four years, he's gone from a wheelchair, to a walker, to eventually needing just a cane.

"It was just amazing,” Anderson recalls. “It was like my adrenaline was rushing and I was on Cloud 9 just being able to stand up for the first time."

His mother, Robin Potter, adds, “It’s a miracle. It's God. It's the answer to a mom's prayers."

But the miracles don't stop there.

This summer another answered prayer showed up at Anderson’s door. He’s a chocolate lab named Gilead. A family in Wilmington donated the dog and Canines for Service trained him.

"He means the world to me,” Anderson says. “He's like my best friend."

It’s an inseparable bond. Gilead never leaves Anderson’s side. He walks the school hallways, helping to support Anderson’s weight. And then there are the simple tasks we so often take for granted – things like helping Anderson turn on lights or pick up things off the floor.

"It's given him an avenue to be able to be more accessible to different things,” Lee says. “It's given us a peace of mind that when he's out, he's got a companion."

Peace of mind and a piece of hope. Anderson’s physical therapist says with Gilead’s help, continued physical therapy, and the use of modern medical technology, Anderson will likely one day be able to walk without his cane.

"It’s a daily struggle, but I just have faith that it's going to get better," Anderson says.

It’s that faith - especially in God - that Anderson’s mother says has given her family the strength to get through the tough times.

"I think the hardest thing for me when I reflect is looking back and knowing that God's given Anderson a miracle, and why does my child get the miracle when so many other parents pray every day for injuries, cancer, things that their children have, that God has to have a purpose for Anderson."

And so the journey to discover that purpose begins. Day by day, hour by hour, one step at a time… 

“You just have to wake up every day with the mentality that today’s going to get a little bit better, and today’s going to be a good day, and we’re going to make progress ,” Anderson says.

Anderson just got his driver's license and says he's looking forward to applying to colleges this summer.

To learn more about Canines for Service, the nonprofit that trained Anderson’s dog, click here.

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