Paralyzed Girl Learning To Walk

When Christopher Reeve died three weeks ago, America lost an inspiration. He helped put a face on spinal cord injuries, and demonstrated that recovery was possible.

But 7-year-old Jessica Hill is picking up where Reeve left off, reports The Early Show's Tracy Smith.

Jessica was born nine weeks premature with meningitis and an infection. She was paralyzed from the chest down. Doctors said she'd never walk.

Two years ago, Jessica was already challenging doctors' predictions, with the aid of bulky braces and an elaborate walker.

Today, the braces are much more manageable, and instead of the walker, Jessica is using crutches.

Like her small, determined steps, Jessica's progress has been slow but increasingly steady.

"She has feeling all the way down to her toes. She can tell us when she needs to go to the bathroom," says her mother, Leann Hill. "She can tell if you touch her with warm hands or cold hands, where before she didn't have any of that. So there's a lot of progress in the feeling and the nerves, so that's been a very very big plus."

It's the result of hard work. Jessica's rehabilitation includes daily walking, even when the crutches hurt her tiny hands.

And there's 30 minutes every day on a bike her mom designed, doing exercises designed to stimulate her withered nerves.

"What we're doing is tapping into the potential that was already built into our nervous system. We now realize that the nervous system has a much greater capacity to regenerate and recover than we ever thought possible before," says neurologist John McDonald.

Jessica was McDonald's first pediatric patient, though he has plenty of experience dealing with spinal injuries, including the case of late actor Christopher Reeve. And while Jessica's probably too young to have been inspired by reeve, she's not too young to be an inspiration herself.

"I can't even describe how much she inspires me, knowing that she never wants to give up, and she keeps going and going and going," says her mother.

While Jessica still may not move exactly like every other kid, she sure acts like one, plays like one, and wants to be treated like one.

For Leann, that is the most important part of her daughter's progress.

"The real thing is she just wants to be happy. She just wants to be a kid. If she can do it without braces and crutches, that's great. But if she can't, that's all right too," she says.

Leann says Jessica keeps the family focused on the present. They marvel at what Jessica has accomplished physically, but are even more impressed with the warm, loving person she's become.

McDonald firmly believes that, eventually, Jessica will make a full recovery, and there will be no hint of the disabilities she's suffered.

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