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Godwin student walking again, months after being paralyzed in crash: ‘It’s a blessing’

HENRICO COUNTY, Va. -- Ryan Estrada is learning to walk again, nearly six months after he was partially paralyzed in a car crash on his way to school.

“I try not to think about it, but when I do think about it, it’s like a blessing,” the 17-year-old said.

The Godwin High School junior he says on November 8, he swerved past a biker and lost control of the wheel near Gayton Road and Stoneycreek Drive in Henrico County.

“I almost have PTSD when I see a Honda CR-V, especially a forest green one,” said Caroline Estrada, Ryan’s mother. “When I see Henrico County ambulance with lights and sirens going, it just sends a shiver down my spine.”

A photo shows Ryan's car near where the crash happened.

Ryan spent more than six weeks at the VCU Medical Center. He lost use of his hands and his legs. Doctors said he would likely never be able to walk again. Ryan’s mother said it’s something no parent can prepare for.

“To watch your child who’s 17 years of age become a toddler again, and not mentally or cognitively but physically need his mother or a person to do every little thing, it’s very hard because no parent ever thinks they’re going to be in that situation,” explained Caroline.

Both mother and son said sleep was the most challenging thing when Ryan first got home after the accident.

Ryan Estrada

“It was just hard. I just couldn’t move, but now I can move a lot better,” Ryan said. “I’m just living. Like I wake up every day and I’m in my body.”

But Ryan has refused to give up. Days after the crash, he made a prediction from his hospital room that he’d be able to walk again in six months. He’s now defying the odds.

“I kind of just said that and realized I said it. And then I was like oh, I got to do that now,” Ryan said. “It’s pretty cool to put my money where my mouth is.”

Four mornings a week, Ryan spends two hours in rehab at the VCU Health Neuroscience, Orthopaedic, and Wellness (NOW) Center in Short Pump.

“I think of it as going to the gym every morning, so I just get a workout,” Ryan said. “It’s a little frustrating, but once you get over the mental block, it’s just physical.”

Ryan Estrada

He does one hour of physical therapy and one hour of occupational therapy, challenging himself with the help of doctors.

“He’s really determined and has been lucky he has a great team with him to make it all happen,” said mom.

The Estradas remember the first time Ryan took steps with a walker in mid-April.

“The first time I stood up was really cool, like feeling my feet on the ground and taking those first steps,” Ryan said.

“It was really emotional for me and for his therapists to see the progress that he’s making,” Caroline said. “He was concentrating so hard on the fact that he was standing, and he turned around and he realized how far he had walked.”

After Ryan finishes up his rehab sessions, he grabs breakfast with the help of a caretaker and boards the bus to school. Though things haven’t changed much for him in the classroom, it’s clear he’s happy to be back with his friends and hopeful moving forward.

Ryan Estrada

“Just don’t take things for granted,” Ryan said. “I can deal with stuff better now like little things that don’t go my way aren’t the end of the world.”

The Estradas say more independence and realistic goals for Ryan are important.

“I want to be able to get up and go to the fridge, get something and come back by like the end of the summer. That’s like my big goal,” Ryan said.

“As Ryan has proved to me every day over the last 5 months that what Ryan wants, Ryan is going to do,” Caroline said. “I am so proud of his attitude. 95% of the time, he is so positive, so unlike what I would have expected him to be.”

Ryan also recently joined the Sportable team for activities including tennis and rowing. He plans to add in cycling once the school year is done.