An Amazing Journey

Jose's aide Robert; Jose Gildo, the proud graduate; and Rachael Chavez, the San Diego County California Children Services physical therapist

It's the sort of story they make movies out of in Hollywood: after being confined to a wheelchair for more than five years, 17-year-old Jose Gildo was able to physically walk his graduation ceremony with the assistance of a walking device. The journey to this moment wasn't easy.

Gildo was diagnosed with Lesch–Nyhan syndrome as an infant. The disease is characterized by severe self-mutilating behaviors and poor muscle control. Jose requires protective gear during all waking hours to prevent damage from self-mutilation as well as restraints at night time.

In the fall of 2010, Rachael Chavez, a physical therapist with San Diego County’s California Children Services (CCS) Medical Therapist Program, began working with Jose during weekly treatment sessions to try to find a way to improve Jose’s quality of life.  Rachael incurred many risks to her own body in working with a young adult with this severe uncontrollable motor disturbance, but she was dedicated to helping Jose move about on his own again.

Like a good Hollywood drama, there were tense moments right up until the end. Chavez said new parts for Gildo's walking device arrived the day before the graduation ceremony. She was working on outfitting and adjusting the parts right up to the minutes before graduation began.

“It was so exciting for me, and I was so proud to see him accomplish this and walk at graduation. He worked so hard and accomplished every challenge I gave him,” Chavez said. “The original goal didn’t involve him walking at graduation, but to see him work for that and attain it just made me so proud of him.”

Jose is now a graduate of Sweetwater Union High School.