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Kennedy Krieger Aquatic Therapy Helps Patients With Spinal Cord Injuries

BALTIMORE (WJZ) -- Researchers at Kennedy Krieger are working on aquatic therapies to help those with spinal cord injuries.

"Being a competitive gymnast, you have to have a lot of motivation and determination," Kristen McAllister says.

She still has those qualities, even after her life changed dramatically in college when a urinary tract infection led to sepsis, which led to a spinal cord infection.

Two years later, her journey has brought her from Tennessee to Baltimore. Specifically, to a special pool at Kennedy Krieger, where there's hope for recovery.

An underwater treadmill is just one of its impressive features. Physical therapist Rachel Mertins says it's a transformative experience for patients.

"They're so used to being in a chair, [slumping] because they don't have the strength in order to sit up," she says. "And you put them in the water and they feel free."

"There's not gravity in the pool so there's a lot more that I can do," says 13-year-old Lizzie Pickett.

"I'm weightless, one, and two, when I'm upstairs in the gym on land, I have to be in a harness, or I have to use a walker and I have to have a therapist holding on to me, where in the pool I have nothing, it's just me."

"I live for those moments because the patients look at you with a sparkle in their eye," Mertin says.

"I was told that I'd never walk again, and here I am, able to do more than I ever thought I was going to be able to from what the doctors said," McAllister says.

Her next goal is to walk in the Baltimore Running Festival's 5K this fall.

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