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Paralyzed man given hope by experimental surgery
Travis Robinson will travel to Portugal for spinal procedure

Statesman Journal

Robinson's life forever.

Somewhere between a belly flop and a tuck, Robinson, then 17, hit the pool in such a way that he injured his spinal cord. He now is paralyzed from the neck down.

But in January, he hopes another moment will change his life: surgery.

Travis Robinson, a North Salem High School graduate, was paralyzed his senior year after a diving accident. He is scheduled to have experimental surgery in January in Portugal.

Robinson will fly to Portugal to get a breakthrough surgery at the Hospital Egas Moniz. In the procedure, the scar tissue that surrounds his spinal cord will be removed. Doctors will take tissue that contains stem cells from his sinuses and implant it where the scar tissue was removed.

Robinson will stay in Portugal for two weeks before flying back to Oregon to finish his recovery.

Then, the rehabilitation begins at Project Walk in Carlsbad, Calif. Robinson will receive intensive therapy three to five hours per day, three days per week. For as long as it takes.

"It just depends on how long we can keep enough money to do it, and as long as I keep improving," Robinson said.

The second-year student at Western Oregon University plans to take a sabbatical during the winter semester and possibly longer to work on his rehabilitation.

Project Walk, Robinson said, offers a different kind of therapy. "Not rehab in the sense of getting along with your life and being handicapped, but trying to get back where you were."

Right now, though, the family is focused on getting everything ready for surgery and raising the estimated $90,000 cost for surgery and rehabilitation.

Robinson's mother, Ann Carr, lives in Independence and works in Salem. She is using a Web site based in Salem, helptraviswalk.org, to help raise money for the recovery.

Robinson's father, John "Jocko" Robinson, is a diver in Westchester, Calif. His shop, Dive N' Surf, has been a key part of the family's fundraising effort. He is using a California-based Web site, helptravis.org, to raise money. The sites are identical. More than $94,000 has been raised.

The family also sells bright, royal-blue "Inspire Hope, Help Travis" bracelets, which cost $5.

Robinson's rehabilitation process that could take as long as two years.

"Ultimately, if everything went perfectly, I would gain everything back. But even if I got full use of my hands back, it would completely change my life," he said.

Some of the Portuguese patients who have undergone the surgery have been able to move their legs or walk with a walker. Several others have regained bladder control.

"Whatever he gets back will give him so much more freedom," Carr said.

Stem-cell research is a politically charged issue and has been linked to the abortion debate. Some researchers elsewhere are using stem cells from frozen embryos, but a U.S. policy established by the White House has limited that research to existing stem-cell lines.

Robinson said he has dealt with misconceptions about the kind of surgery he is scheduled.

"Not all stem cells come from an aborted fetus," he said.

Robinson said he is hopeful of the outcome.

"I just don't think people understand how life gets so complicated after something like this," he said. "It's not just difficult for me, but my entire family"

Gannett News Service contributed to this story.


Last Updated ( Dec 12, 2005 at 09:22 AM )