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.

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.

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

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James "Woody" Beckham

“Jackson treated me fantastically, especially their caring staff and brilliant doctors,” Woody said. “Jackson is a special place where countless people get excellent care, particularly those who need it the most.”

Steven Avila

“I’m grateful to Ryder Trauma Center,” he said. “They saved my life. The treatment was the best in the world.”

Desiree Meyer

“I have fond memories of Ryder and the medical staff,” Desiree said. “Everyone was so great to me. They made me feel like I was not alone.”

Tiffany Davis & Skyla Milton

“Doctors made sure I was all right before I got out of the hospital,” said Davis, “and I hope they just keep it up and save other people, like how they worked on me.”