ISLAMORADA (CBSMiami) — A group of patients with spinal cord injuries spent a day swimming with dolphins in the Florida Keys.
Aaron Willis, a 15-year-old Miami boy who was shot and left paralyzed in 2012, was among the Jackson Memorial Hospital patients who got to dive in with Atlantic Bottlenose Dolphins on Friday at the Theater of the Sea in Islamorada.
“I came a long way,” said Willis. “At first I didn’t even know if I was going to live or not and now I’m in the water swimming with dolphins.”
Willis and the other patients who are paraplegic and quadriplegic swim weekly as part of an aquatic rehab program at Jackson Rehabilitation Hospital. The trip to Islamorada is a yearly outing, set up 10 years ago by the hospitals therapists, to reward patients for their hard work.
“It is a miracle,” said Katherine Beaton, Aaron’s mom. “It’s exciting just to see my son swim with the dolphins.”
Swimming with dolphins is a goal each of the patients works toward during their rehabilitation. Once a week, the group meets at a pool with therapists to work on different water skills. Those include blowing bubbles, floating on their backs, kicking their legs and going underwater.
“Using all the skills that they’ve learned,” said Cathy Herring, a recreational therapist with Jackson memorial Hospital. “That is really rewarding because they come out and say: ‘oh I did it and was so much fun.'”
The program is free for patients, thanks to the therapists who raise the money by selling hot dogs throughout the year.