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6-year-old girl paralyzed in backbend accident takes first steps

Doctors once thought Eden Hoelscher would never walk again. But when her best friend came to visit, she startled everyone.
/ Source: TODAY

Doctors thought 6-year-old Eden Hoelscher might never walk again, but during a play sword fight, she began moving toward her best friend, Violet. The steps —with support from helpers — turned into a five-minute walk and marked the first time Eden walked since an accident paralyzed her from the waist down.

It's being called incredible progress.

“That was really, really amazing because it was the first time she took steps,” Eden's mom Kylee Hoelscher, 37, told TODAY. “She just started walking toward Violet … she was walking all over the room and out into the hall.”

Paralyzed girl takes first steps
After doing a backbend, Eden Hoelscher was paralyzed from the waist down. Last summer, she took her first steps since her accident. Courtesy of Kylee Hoelscher

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As part of her pediatric locomotor training, Eden walks on a treadmill while in a harness. During her sword fight with Violet, therapists supported her weight as she walked, but Hoelscher believes Eden moved without thinking. It was a natural reflex much like what happens with people without paralysis. The family still feels pleasantly shocked.

“I can’t believe it happened,” Hoelscher said.

It’s been a difficult journey for Eden since she fell doing a backbend in December 23, 2015, in Rancho Palos Verdes, California. Hoelscher found Eden in the living room, crying with her arms and legs bent awkwardly. At the time, Hoelscher thought her daughter pinched a nerve. But after Eden said, “It feels like my feet are asleep," Hoelscher panicked.

They rushed to the ER, where Hoelscher and her husband, Nic, 37, learned the terrible news — Eden was paralyzed from the waist down.

“It was so ridiculous to me that she did a backbend and was paralyzed,” Hoelscher said.

Paralyzed girl takes first steps
Even though she's paralyzed from the waist down, Eden Hoelscher doesn't let that slow her down. She dreams of buying lunch at school like her sister, Isabella. Courtesy of Kylee Hoelscher

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'Very comfortable in her body'

After an ICU stay and six weeks in a rehab hospital, the Hoelschers began looking for treatments for Eden. They felt determined their daughter would walk again.

“There was no way she wasn’t going to get better,” she said.

Soon after, the Hoelschers found the Frazier Rehab Institute in Louisville, Kentucky. The center focuses on a unique program that re-trains an injured spinal cord to send messages differently. This allows it to bypass the injured area.

Every 20 days, the staff evaluates how the patients are progressing and, from the very start, Eden excelled. The staff told the family: “We very rarely see any improvement in the first 20 days.”

The girl has no official long-term prognosis and there's no guarantee she'll be able to walk on her own, but she's come a long way from not being able to sit up. She is growing stronger and improving, with the hope of walking again one day.

Even before her monumental steps in July, Eden was moving around the house better than ever before. She uses her upper body to get up and down the stairs and "bump" around a room. She swims, plays wheelchair tennis and wants to go to school and buy lunch, just like her sister, Isabella, 9.

“She is very comfortable in her body,” said Hoelscher.

Paralyzed girl takes first steps
Eden Hoelscher gets a lift when helping to decorate the Christmas tree with her family.Courtesy of Kylee Hoelscher

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Because of Eden's progress, the family moved from California to Kentucky in August, allowing Eden to continue therapy. While she shies away from too much attention, Hoelscher thinks that Eden realizes she’s improving and that motivates her.

“In her own little quiet way, she sees herself getting better and that kind of buoys her,” said Hoelscher.

The family shares updates on Eden’s progress on her Facebook page, Stand with Eden. The Hoelschers have been using social media to educate others about pediatric spinal cord injuries.

“Our whole thing is building awareness about pediatric spinal cord injuries so other parents don’t have to go what we were going through,” said Hoelscher.