The Petaluma teen paralyzed in a diving accident now is in Panama receiving treatment at a stem cell facility in an effort to regain some of his bodily functions.

Danny Cox, a 2010 graduate of Petaluma High School, left for Panama City on Saturday with his mother, Maureen McGowan, and oldest sister, Emily Cox, to receive treatment at the Stem Cell Institute. The treatment began on Monday, and is scheduled to be given through Jan. 28.

Cox, then 18, suffered a broken neck and was paralyzed from the chest down after doing a flat dive into shallow water at Lake Tahoe on Aug. 10. Apparently, a wave from a nearby boat caused his head to be pushed into the sand.

His family found out about the institute in Panama from a friend in Santa Rosa who is paralyzed.

"Her doctor knows the owner of the institute," said Mark McGowan, Cox's stepfather, adding that Cox traveled to Panama because stem-cell treatments there are not as strictly regulated as they are in the United States.

While the institute reports some successes in treating other paralyzed patients, Mark McGowan — who, along with Maureen, owns Graffiti restaurant in Petaluma — says that it isn't certain that the treatments will help Cox.

"The problem with spinal cords is that once they're severed, the medical community doesn't know how to repair them," he said. "The institute has had some limited success, but isn't confident of what the outcome will be for Danny.

"We're hoping that he'll be able to get some functions back."

The treatment begins with bone marrow extraction, followed by physical therapy and stem cell treatment sessions. The total cost for the four weeks is $30,500, and four-week follow-up treatments, if necessary and desired, range from $21,000 to $23.000.

After Cox's accident, businesses, community groups and individuals immediately jumped in to help him and his family. Some supplied food, while others provided services, donated their own money or held fund-raising events to help pay for his medical expenses not covered by his insurance. Some of the money raised will be used to pay for his treatment in Panama, McGowan said.

Cox has been staying in several different places since the accident. Initially, he was taken to Renown Medical Center in Reno, Nev., and 10 days later, was transferred to Kaiser Rehabilitation Facility in Vallejo. He returned to his Petaluma home, newly remodeled to suit his needs, in October, but in December was taken to Shriners Hospital for Children in Sacramento.

"Danny has a stomach infection, and bacteria was taking all of his nutrition, so he lost a lot of weight," McGowan said. "He got better at Shriners and gained back some weight, and it also provided him with physical therapy. So, he left in a better medical state."

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