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Local student suffers spinal injury at MIT orientation

THEO ST. FRANCIS is showing enough improvement to sit upright in a wheelchair.

THEO ST. FRANCIS is showing enough improvement to sit upright in a wheelchair.

Lorna Sheridan/Index-Tribune Education Editor

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Born and raised in Sonoma, 18-year-old Theo St. Francis was seriously injured while participating in a freshman ocean engineering pre-orientation program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in August.

According to a family post on the Caring Bridge website, his orientation group took their newly-designed and constructed robots to an island in the Boston Harbor to test them in the water and, while there, St. Francis was involved in a serious impact accident at the beach, causing damage to his cervical spine. He was taken promptly to the mainland by a police boat called by the beach lifeguards and received immediate medical attention in Boston at Mass General Hospital.

While he was alert and communicative, St. Francis has suffered an impairment of motor skills in his lower body. He had surgery at Mass General within 24 hours of the accident to replace the shattered C6 vertebra in the cervical section of his spine. A family post on the Caring Bridge website stated, “We are all thrilled that he never lost consciousness, did not suffer a concussion and that none of the scans have shown any brain damage. His hearing, vision and mental acuity appear to be undiminished.”

St. Francis is now focusing his energy on the medical treatments and is actively engaged in

physical therapy to regain functions in his lower body. He has made remarkable progress since transferring to Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital in Charlestown on Boston Harbor. In a post on Aug. 30, his mother added, “For someone who was in constant motion, to suddenly be immobile, is indescribable … Theo is primed to work triple-time to do all he can do to speed the process … he already has amazed the therapists with his persistence and his creative approach to using implements, in light of his restricted motor skills.”

St. Francis graduated from Marin Academy last spring where he was an honors student, captain of MA’s swim team and a Scholastic All-American swimmer. Prior to MA, he was the valedictorian of the 2009 graduating class at St. Francis Solano School in Sonoma.

Marin Academy is hosting a family Run/Walk-athon benefit for “Team Theo” on Sunday, Nov. 24 on the Marin Academy campus at 1600 Mission Avenue in San Rafael. All contributions received will go toward covering expenses related to St. Francis’ treatment that are not covered by insurance. The walkathon will start at 10 a.m. and there will be lunch and live music at noon.

Updates on St. Francis’ progress, more information about the fundraiser as well as moving tributes from family and friends can be found at caringbridge.org/visit/teamtheo.