Aaron Willis

Just days before Christmas in 2012, 15-year-old Aaron Willis was riding bike in Wynwood when a gunman in a car drove by and shot him in the back. He was rushed to Ryder Trauma Center, where doctors saved his life. They determined that the bullet struck Aaron’s spinal cord, leaving him paralyzed.

In the years since the shooting, Aaron has made incredible strides, thanks to the care he received at Ryder Trauma and Holtz Children’s Hospital. At Jackson Rehabilitation Hospital, he became actively involved in Jackson’s recreation therapy program, where he mastered hand cycling and swimming in the hospital’s weekly aquatic rehab program for patients with spinal cord injuries.

In June 2016, Aaron, a one-time star athlete, graduated from Booker T. Washington Senior High, stunning his classmates, teachers, and school administrators when he walked across the auditorium stage using a bionic exoskeleton from the Miami Project to Cure Paralysis.

“Jackson is the best. The nurses and doctors there take care of everyone – you’re just not a number. It makes the patient and their family feel good.”

Katherine Beaton

Aaron is now 19 and a freshman at Florida International University, where he is studying psychology and marketing. He lives on campus independently.

His parents, Sammie Willis and Katherine Beaton, beam with pride when they speak of the challenges Aaron has faced, and all of the hurdles he has overcome. None of it would be possible, they say, without the immediate medical intervention from the team at Ryder Trauma when Aaron was first shot.