ONSLOW COUNTY - It's a big step for a Jacksonville High School teenager paralyzed during a wrestling match in January. On Monday, Hugo Rubirosa took his first assisted steps since the accident.
"He was really excited," said Leo Rubirosa, Hugo's brother. "All he could say is this is great, that's all that kept coming out of his mouth, this is great."
Hugo took his first steps on the Lokomat robotic body-weight supported treadmill trainer. That's a state-of-art machine at the Shepherd Center in Atlanta. Leo says the machine improves sensory feedback.
Hugo has been at the rehab facility for nearly a month. He left his Swansboro home and Jacksonville High School to try and speed up his recovery.
"It's been a life changing event for all of us," said Leo. Leo says Hugo undergoes intensive treatment five days a week from 8a.m. to 5p.m. The work, Leo says, is grueling.
In the cell phone video above, the lokomat robot is doing most of the work. Leo says doctors hope with time, Hugo will need less assistance, not just on the machine, but also in daily tasks.
"He's really pushing to get out this chair," said Leo, "to get back to his regular life, and not have to depend so much on others."
Hugo's first round of treatment will be complete on November 9th.
A Jacksonville High School senior injured in a January wrestling match is traveling for rigorous treatment. "I want to get up off this chair," said Hugo Rubirosa.
Hugo, a 17-year-old wrestler at the time of his injury, broke the fourth and fifth vertebrae in his neck during a match at West Carteret High School on January third.
"I can't reach up any higher than this," said Rubirosa as he strained to lift his arms, barely reaching shoulder level.
The issue - Rubirosa regained limited movement in his arms and sensation in his legs months ago, but progress has been at a standstill since. "I feel like things have just stopped," he said.
Rubirosa, who has four weekly physical therapy sessions in Onslow County, says he is just building muscle. But the former track star, football player, wrestler and independent teen wants more.
"I still carry myself in a manner that I just keep going, but this isn't life," Rubirosa said. "My daily life experiences would cripple someone's mind."
Maria Rodriguez, Rubirosa's mom, says he needs the assistance of a nurse for approximately 12 hours a day. Before the accident, getting ready for school was a cinch. Now Rubirosa says it takes more than two hours. It is for this reason that Friday was Rubirosa's last day at Jacksonville High School for awhile. Currently, Rubirosa is at the Shepherd Center in Atlanta, a top-ranked facility which specializes in treating people with spinal cord injuries.
On Monday, Rubirosa met with doctors for an initial evaluation.
"I hope that at least my hands come to function," said Rubirosa. "I hope that they got something that no one else has."
Although doctors say there are no promises, Hugo is not giving up hope. The biggest challenge for this athlete lies in the months ahead.