Cameron’s Story: Conquering Mountains - Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago

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Cameron’s Story: Conquering Mountains Following a Spinal Cord Injury

Published on February 17, 2016

Cameron’s Story: Conquering Mountains Following a Spinal Cord Injury

In May 2015, Cameron Zick, a 26-year-old from San Diego, was on a camping trip in Colorado with five friends when his life changed forever. As they were hiking, Cameron slipped on a rock and hit his head with such force and at such an angle that the impact broke his neck, leaving him in severe pain and paralyzed below the neck.

Two of his friends raced down a treacherous path to find cell phone reception. Three others stabilized his neck and kept him warm for six hours at the top of the mountain in snowy, sub-30-degree weather. They were successful in reaching a rescue team, but the helicopter was unable to land due to the weather. The only way out was to put Cameron on a stretcher and carry him down from 11,000 feet— a grueling five-hour journey at night.

Cameron was rushed to a local hospital for emergency surgery. A few weeks later, he requested to be transferred to the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago (RIC).

“Since then, I have seized control back from the accident and channeled it into my recovery,” said Cameron.


On his first day of therapy at RIC—19 days after his paralyzing fall—Cameron was taking his first steps with a walker. After only five weeks at RIC, he was walking on his own without the help of assistive devices. He continued to make improvements throughout therapy, and doctors were thrilled with his quick and steady progress.

Cameron went from losing all movement and feeling below his neck to walking on his own in inpatient therapy and running on a treadmill in outpatient therapy. By November of the same year, he was living independently and even climbed 103 flights of stairs to the top of the Willis Tower during RIC’s SkyRise Chicago. Now, Cameron is working toward his goal of hiking the trail where his accident took place and standing — victoriously — on that same rock.

In the meantime, he’s focused on his continued rehabilitation at RIC: “I’ll do my best to enjoy this transformative journey with family and friends, celebrate small victories along the way, and wake up excited to see how my body will surprise me.”