One Step at a Time

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By GWEN MURANAKA and RYOKO NAKAMURA

Tomo Kadono works out at NextStep Fitness in Lawndale. The goal of the therapy is to strengthen his core muscles and retrain locomotor centers within the spinal cord to remember how to walk again. (Photos by MARIO G. REYES/Rafu Shimpo)

LAWNDALE — “Shoulders back!” A physical therapist shouts encouragement to Tomo Kadono as he grimaces in concentration, the effort to keep his body upright showing. He is standing, if only briefly, and strapped into a locomotor training harness that bears most of his weight.

For 45 minutes, Kadono, 30, works out on a TheraStride machine at NextStep Fitness in Lawndale, across from the South Bay Galleria. The treadmill system helps to strengthen the legs of patients suffering from paralysis. Strapped into a harness, Kadono smiles and jokes with the four trainers who work with him: two to rhythmically move his legs on the treadmill, while another trainer keeps him steady at the hips. A fourth monitors his progress on a computer, and adjusts the regimen.

After the session on the machine, Kadono works one-on-one with a trainer for another 30 minutes, when the muscles are most active.

“The first year or two are the most crucial to gain back mobility,” said Kadono. “I’m doing locomotor training two days a week.”

It’s been just over a year since Kadono’s life changed dramatically. Before that he was a mechanic working at BMW, living an active life with friends and enjoying running with his two dogs, Kumo and Kimo.

An accident last September left Kadono, a graduate of Mark Keppel High School, paralyzed from the shoulders down. He spent four months in the hospital, including a month in ICU, and had to relearn how to speak and breathe on his own. His mom, Yukiko, left her home in Hyogo Prefecture immediately after the accident and takes care of him in the apartment they now share in Little Tokyo. Kadono has been going to physical therapy since April. Thanks to hard work, he is now able to move his right arm up and down but not his fingers.

Kadono grimaces as a physical therapist works on his core strength.

“I put a lot of burden on a lot on people being this way. The only way I can pay them back is to get better,” Kadono said. “If I was to give up, I would put that much more of a burden on everyone.”

Insurance covered just 30 physical therapy sessions. Kadono explained that the sessions cost over $1,300 a month at the facility, which specializes in spinal cord injuries.

Kadono’s friends and the Nishi Hongwanji LA Hui Aikane have organized a fundraiser for Kadono on Saturday, Sept. 28. Jill Igarashi Takayama, one of the event co-chairs, said that the goal is to raise $25,000 to pay for a year of rehabilitation and other medical expenses.

“He’s doing amazing things. We hope he keeps progressing so well. We hope he can stand up and walk of out his chair,” said Igarashi Takayama, who besides hosting the fundraiser is taking care of Kadono’s Siberian husky, Kumo. “We told him, ‘There are a few hundred of us counting on you.’”

James Ota, owner of Oiwake Restaurant, is caring for Kadono’s other dog, Kimo. Friends have been pitching in since the accident and have organized the fundraiser, which will include bingo, a silent auction and live entertainment. It’s a tight group of friends who have been in one another’s weddings and shared good times. They have now joined together to help Kadono.

Kadono and his mom, Yukiko, at their apartment in Little Tokyo.

“They say when you get into an accident like this you tend to make a new set of friends. My friends have stuck by me through this,” Kadono said. “They’ve been my backbone of support through this journey of injury that I’m going through.”

One very special performer will be Kadono’s mom. Yukiko, a minyo singer who takes lessons with Matsutoyo Kai, will be performing for her son that night. The singing has helped to relieve some of the stress of being a 24/7 caregiver.

“The fundraiser will be crucial. As long as I can go to physical therapy, it gives me hope, it helps me to be optimistic about everything,” Kadono said.

Kadono’s gratitude for his friends and his mom are readily apparent. He said he hopes to one day be able to live independently.

“It’s made me realize how blessed I am with friends and family,” Kadono said.

“A Night Tomove” takes place on Saturday, Sept. 28, from 4 to 9 p.m. at Nishi Hongwanji Buddhist Temple, 815 E. First St., Little Tokyo. Cost: $50. Proceeds benefit Tomo Kadono’s rehab and medical expenses. To donate or for more information, email [email protected] or call (626) 935-9236 or visit www.tomove.org.

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