DENVER (CBS4) – A Fourth of July parade in downtown Denver Monday gave only a hint of how much good has been done for kids in Colorado by the sponsoring organization.
One parade float included the phone number for the Shriners hospitals. But ask Mackenzie Maher about the guys riding on tiny cars and wearing funny hats and she’ll tell you they’ve helped change her life.
“It’s amazing how far I’ve come,” said the smiling 13-year-old from Colorado Springs.
Born with a brain injury, Mackenzie was diagnosed with cerebral palsy. Her family responded with an aggressive therapy program when she was still a toddler.
“We had to keep Mackenzie on her belly like a wild child to learn to crawl,” explained Rhonda Maher, the girl’s mother.
But the family’s tireless efforts produced only limited success. The big breakthrough occurred when Mackenzie was accepted for clinical trials at Shriners Hospital in Chicago. An elaborate automated treadmill called a Locomat is used there so cerebral palsy patients like Mackenzie can learn to walk correctly.
The young teen’s endurance improved dramatically.
“Before I couldn’t even keep up with my family when I was walking; now Mom says I actually have to slow down,” Mackenzie said.
For 6 weeks the girl endured daily sessions on the Locomat.
“It makes work fun,” said a smiling Mackenzie in an interview with CBS4.
There at the hospital to cheer her on was her 15-year-old sister, Jessica.
“She looked like a normal kid just out for a stroll,” Jessica said.
Photo Gallery: Shriners Fourth Of July Parade
The high-tech therapy is extremely expensive. The family’s insurance wouldn’t cover it. But that wasn’t a problem because the Shriners picked up the whole tab.
“We love that place,” Rhonda said.
Since 2005, Shriners hospitals have helped more than 1,800 Colorado children, according to the organization.
Severely disabled at birth, Mackenzie is now well on her way to walking normally. Equally impressive is the fact she just completed 7th grade at Cheyenne Mountain Middle School where she was a straight-A student.
No wonder her mom has high aspirations
“(We want) for her to be totally 100 percent independent,” Rhonda said.