"They were not pretty steps. They were sloppy. But they were the most beautiful steps I've ever seen."

By Meghan Overdeep
May 03, 2019
Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital

Harper Comparin was diagnosed in utero with spina bifida, a birth defect where the backbone and spinal cord don't form properly, which can lead to a range of debilitating issues. Harper has myelomeningocele, the most serious type of spina bifida.

"Being how high up it is on her thoracic spine, typically kids with that diagnosis … they don't sit, they don't crawl, they don't stand. They don't walk," Dr. Michelle Schultz of the Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital in St. Petersburg, Florida, explained in a statement.

But two-year-old Harper is different.

By the time she found herself at the hospital's Child Development and Rehabilitation Center a year ago, a number of difficult surgeries had left her shut down and guarded. Regaining her trust would require doctors to think outside the box.

"We're not just dealing with the muscle problem, or the bone problem, or the neurological problem. We're dealing with the whole child," Michelle said. "That's our specialty."

For Harper, that means keeping things fun. Today, her therapy sessions are accompanied by her favorite song. Powering through a treadmill workout with her therapist at her side, the earworm is unmistakable. Together they sing, "Baby shark, doo doo doo doo doo doo, baby shark, doo doo doo doo doo doo …" timing Harper's careful steps to the beat.

"I like the tune of that song," Michelle told WFTS-TV. "I use it like a metronome. I want her to walk to that beat. Doo doo doo! Pick up her speed, walk faster."

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Harper's parents Fred and Erica, who relocated from Texas to get their daughter the best care available, say she's a constant source of amazement and inspiration.

She's up and running now, but the day Harper took her first steps is not one they'll soon forget.

"They were not pretty steps. They were sloppy," Erica recalled. "But they were the most beautiful steps I've ever seen."

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