With a look of determination on his face, 5-year-old Camden Hanson, who lives with a brain condition that affects his ability to move, took his first steps on Saturday and celebrated with his proud mom.
Mandy Hanson shared the video of her son walking across his family's living room on Twitter Saturday. By Wednesday afternoon, it had received almost 8 million views.
"Since we all could use a little happiness in our lives these days: My youngest son (age 5) has progressive cerebellar atrophy and is physically handicapped. He also has 10 therapies a week. Today, he finally took independent steps!! #MyHero #NeverGiveUp," Hanson wrote on Twitter.
Another video, which Hanson shared with TODAY, shows the moment leading up to Camden's big success. In the clip, Camden tells his mom that he doesn't think the can cross the whole room.
"Yes, you can!" Hanson replies as her son reaches for her hand.
The Hanson family lives in Woodstock, Georgia. Camden has an older brother, Parker, 7. Hanson told TODAY via email that Camden met all of his milestones until he was 18 months old.
"That was when we noticed he was very off balance and was trying to walk but had an abnormal gait not typical of a toddler," Hanson said. "After pursuing many possibilities for the cause, we then visited a local neurologist who conducted an MRI, and that is where we saw the cerebellar atrophy."
The cerebellum is the part of the brain that coordinates voluntary movements, such as posture, balance, coordination and speech. In Camden's case, when it does not function properly, daily tasks such as forming words, balancing and walking are a challenge. In fact, doctors and therapists told the Hansons that it was unlikely Camden would ever walk independently, Hanson said.
When Camden was around 20 months old, he started physical, speech and occupational therapy, Hanson said. Now that he's older, he also does horseback-riding and intensive robotics therapy.
Hanson said MRIs show her son's atrophy is getting worse, but doctors still have not been able to pinpoint a gene causing his condition.
"We've been told that even if we eventually identify the genes causing his atrophy, because his condition is so rare, he may be the only one identified in the world with this condition, and he alone will write the future for this disease," Hanson said.
As a result, Camden has joined the Undiagnosed Disease Network, a research study that seeks to provide families like the Hansons with more information about mysterious health conditions.
"We might not be able to help Camden, but we can help others," Hanson said of the decision to participate.
Speech has also been a challenge for Camden. Two years ago, he communicated by making sounds, but now he speaks in full sentences. His mom credits his intensive therapy and strong-willed attitude for his verbal development and latest breakthrough, walking.
"He’s always been one of those kids who are super independent and determined," Hanson said. "I (also) don’t think he would’ve gotten as far as he has without his (older) brother pushing him."
While he's had to undergo intensive therapy for more than half his life, Camden is "a typical 5-year-old little boy," Hanson added. He loves video games, watching "Paw Patrol," dressing up like super heroes and playing with Legos and toy cars.
"He's so funny ... He loves to make people laugh," Hanson continued. "I don't want people just seeing his disability."
The mother of two never expected the special moment showing Camden taking his first steps to go viral, but she's been appreciative of the kind words and well wishes sent by people around the world.
"Oh my gosh!!!! How amazing!! I can't wait to see my daughter walk one day!!! Way to go!!!" wrote one Twitter user.
"His smile...I could just feel his pride. You’re a great mama," said another.
"What a happy smile on his face after such a great accomplishment for him.... congratulations," commented a third.
To move around, Camden currently uses a gait trainer, similar to a walker, and crutches. When he starts kindergarten in an inclusive classroom this fall, Hanson said her family hopes he'll be comfortable with perhaps only one crutch.
"Camden has taught us about being patient and compassionate more than anyone or anything ever could," Hanson said. "In his short five years, he has undergone dozens of exhaustive and sometimes painful tests yet always smiles through it all."
"I hope (the video) spreads awareness for this rare genetic disease, but ... the special needs community, too," she continued. "These kids go through so much, and they're amazing."