It was a move Eden Hoelscher had done hundreds of times before. But when the 5-year-old girl of Palos Verdes, Calif., performed a backbend in her living room on the morning of Dec. 23, 2015, something went horribly wrong.
“She was on the floor as if she had collapsed in a backbend position, her body was really awkward and she was crying and crying and said, ‘My hips hurt, my legs hurt and my back hurts,’ ” Eden’s mother, Kylee Hoelscher, tells PEOPLE.
“Then her face just changed and she stopped crying and said, ‘Mom, my feet and legs are sleeping.’ ”
In an instant, the Hoelscher family’s whole world changed.
Kylee, 36, rushed Eden to the hospital, where doctors informed her and husband Nicholas Hoelscher, 37, that the gymnastic bridge (a backbend where you push yourself off the floor) had turned their spirited, active young daughter into a paraplegic.
Searching for Answers
Months after her injury, Eden’s doctors are still unable to fully explain how the simple backbend paralyzed her, citing it as a rare occurrence.
“We cannot explain how or why, she didn’t have any abnormalities otherwise,” Kevan Craig, D.O., chief of the Division of Rehabilitative Medicine at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, tells PEOPLE. “This is very, very unusual. Millions of people do this move and never have any problem. There is probably an underlying issue here, but we don’t know.”
The backbend hyperextended Eden’s spine and caused the artery that feeds her spinal cord to stop pumping blood, causing a stroke in her spinal cord.
“We did CT scans and X-rays of her back and it seems like there was some vascular abnormalities [probably as a result of the backbend] and then she had a blood clot in her spine that led to her spinal cord injury.” Dr. Craig explains.
One thing that everyone in Eden’s life can say with certainty is that her resilient spirit remains intact.
“She is a phenomenal little girl. She is very outgoing, very positive. She’s always ready for whatever you give her to do. She’s amazing,” Dr. Craig adds.
Time to Heal
After her five-week stay at CHLA, the long road to recovery is just beginning for Eden at home. The young girl, who has amazingly returned to school for half days, goes to physical therapy three days a week.
“She’s getting stronger and stronger each week,” Kylee says. “She has a really positive outlook. It’s been the thing that gets us through it. All of us are falling apart in the background and she is just so strong and happy and giggly and laughing.
“It just makes all the difference in the world. She’s the same kid – she’s just in a wheelchair. Obviously, things have changed dramatically, but her spirit is still wonderful.”
Eden, who took ballet and gymnastics and played soccer before her injury, is now channeling her competitive spirit into her physical therapy sessions.
“Everytime I see her, there’s more recovery,” says Eden’s physical therapist, Julie Hershberg. “She can activate some of the muscles in her legs and she can feel some parts of her legs.
“If we get her really excited to do something – like stomp and squish something on the ground – we can get even more activity in her legs.”
Eden’s now-famous spirit has helped immensely with her recovery.
“She’s just a joy. She’s up for any challenge,” Hershberg adds. “She’s a daredevil and up for anything. She wants to explore and she’s curious and she wants to play, so all of those thing are going to greatly help in her recovery.
“She’s got that determination and this amazing support. I can’t wait to see what happens. I’m very hopeful.”
As for what Eden’s parents have told their 5-year-old daughter about the extent of her injury, Kylee says, “We explained to her that her spine is sleeping, which means her legs are sleeping, but everything that we’re doing is to get her legs working again and for her to be able to walk again. We try to remain really positive. We just tell her to be strong and she can see that she’s getting stronger.”
Eden’s injury has also been difficult for the Hoelscher’s older daughter, Isabella, 9.
“The hardest part for her was when we were in the hospital – it was really scary for her to see Eden all hooked up to tubes and wires,” Kylee shares. “It’s a different relationship, they can’t do as much together. It’s been hard for her, our entire lives were just turned upside down.”
For the past three months, the family has relied on the amazing support from the community around them.
“It’s been absolutely unbelievable,” Kylee says. “One of my best friends set it up so we’d have dinner brought to us every night we were at the hospital. And the girls’ school has really rallied around us. Other parents would pick my daughter up from school and take care of her lunches every day.”
One of Kylee’s friends also set up a GoFundMe page to help pay for costly medical expenses and to bring awareness to Eden’s condition.
“I have hundreds of emails every day from people telling us to stay strong or letting us know they’re praying for her – Eden is on prayer chains throughout the United States and throughout the world.
“It’s unbelievable. I think it’s just because this could have happend to anyone’s child. It was just such a random accident. It kind of resonates with parents because you see the fragility in your own child.”
For now, the Hoelschers are focusing on Eden’s recovery and remaining positive as a family in the face of uncertainty.
Kylee adds, “No one knows what her prognosis will be – anything is possible.”