By Mike Schuh

BALTIMORE (WJZ) — Researchers at Kennedy Krieger are working on aquatic therapies to help those with spinal cord injuries.

“Being a competitive gymnast, you have to have a lot of motivation and determination,” Kristen McAllister says.

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She still has those qualities, even after her life changed dramatically in college when a urinary tract infection led to sepsis, which led to a spinal cord infection.

Two years later, her journey has brought her from Tennessee to Baltimore. Specifically, to a special pool at Kennedy Krieger, where there’s hope for recovery.

An underwater treadmill is just one of its impressive features. Physical therapist Rachel Mertins says it’s a transformative experience for patients.

“They’re so used to being in a chair, [slumping] because they don’t have the strength in order to sit up,” she says. “And you put them in the water and they feel free.”

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“There’s not gravity in the pool so there’s a lot more that I can do,” says 13-year-old Lizzie Pickett.

“I’m weightless, one, and two, when I’m upstairs in the gym on land, I have to be in a harness, or I have to use a walker and I have to have a therapist holding on to me, where in the pool I have nothing, it’s just me.”

“I live for those moments because the patients look at you with a sparkle in their eye,” Mertin says.

“I was told that I’d never walk again, and here I am, able to do more than I ever thought I was going to be able to from what the doctors said,” McAllister says.

Her next goal is to walk in the Baltimore Running Festival’s 5K this fall.

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