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Art Photographer Neels De Coning Gives His All To Come Back After Spinal Cord Injury

WHEATON, Ill. (CBS) -- Admit it – quarantine can make the littlest things seem like a big deal.

But it is the tiniest details that a photographer in the western suburbs has always treasured. As CBS 2's Lauren Victory reported, now more than ever, Neels de Coning is taking life one step at a time.

"I started photography at the age of 15 16:54:26," de Coning said.

And in the 45 years since, he has created a portfolio that spans the world.

"We traveled a lot," de Coning said. "I always had my camera with me."

His love for fine art photography blossomed into a business.

"I found beauty where I never would've thought," de Coning said.

And he hopes to find beauty again, but he is now faced with a challenge. At Northwestern Medicine's Marianjoy Rehabilitation Hospital, de Cooning uses a weighted ball to simulate a camera as he practices the motion of taking a portrait.

More simply, he is relearning how to hold things in the air again.

De Coning is in outpatient care at the hospital. Ten months ago, a traumatic fall changed his life forever.

"The next thing I remember was lying on the floor not being able to breathe," he said.

He couldn't talk or walk either. His spinal cord was nearly severed.

"When patients first come here for inpatient rehab, they basically undergo intensive rehab three hours a day," said Dr. Anita Kou, director of spinal cord injury at Marianjoy. "No spinal cord injury is the same."

But Kou said common causes of such injuries include a car accident or a fall. Less travel during the pandemic caused an interesting shift in cases.

"More from people staying at home, maybe doing work around the house or the yard and unfortunately tripping and falling," she said.

De Coning's journey began before COVID-19. There are no masks in the video diaries the photographer stitched together himself.

The editing wasn't easy for de Coning to complete on a computer.

"I had to change the settings on my mouse because my fingers are all over the place," he said.

De Coning's recovery could stop progressing at any point, doctors say. But for what he's gotten back, he feels blessed.

A self-portrait is his first photo post-fall – in the slow return of a God-given gift that he hopes to use in a more meaningful way.

"I have no idea what it is, but it's going to be beautiful," De Coning said.

September is Spinal Cord Injury Awareness Month. Approximately 17,000 people hurt their spinal cords each year, according to the United Spinal Association.



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