The spirits of the Petaluma teenager paralyzed from the chest down last year in a diving accident have been lifted, now that he has regained feeling in some parts of his body after receiving stem-cell treatments in Panama City, but he still is adjusting to a more limited life.

"After the treatments, it sucks less," said Danny Cox. "I feel better than before I went."

His mother, Maureen McGowan, emphasized that they view improvements within the context of his overall condition, which they regard as only one step along the way to recovery.

"The treatments went very well. He actually started getting new sensations in two weeks," she said. "Danny's healthier, his mood is good and he's not as fragile as he was before we left. He smiles more, eats more and has more energy. Danny has more body awareness: He knows where his body is in space, and if his leg is lifted, he knows that it is in the air. Also, he's now using a manual wheelchair instead of a power chair.

"This all is one step toward him getting all the way better."

Cox said that he got feelings in his buttocks and legs during injections in Panama City, and now feels tingling in his legs when they are rubbed.

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. A wave from a nearby boat might have caused his head to be pushed into the sand. He was transported to Renown Hospital in Reno, Nev., and 10 days later was taken to Kaiser Rehabilitation Facility in Vallejo. In October, he returned to his Petaluma granny unit, on the grounds of his family's home, but two months later, he was transported to Shriners Hospital in Sacramento for treatment of a stomach infection and weight loss.

After returning home for two weeks, he was treated from Jan. 3 to 28 at the Stem Cell Institute in Panama City, where stem cell treatments are not as strictly regulated as they are in the United States. McGowan and his oldest sister, Emily Cox, accompanied him. They returned to Petaluma on Jan. 30.

"Each day, I had one hour of physical therapy, followed by an injection. Then I would sleep, eat and work out," Cox said.

"He slept about 75 percent of the time," McGowan said.

Cox is scheduled to return to Panama City for additional treatments in early June and in either late October or early November. The initial treatments cost $30,500, and contributions from the Petaluma community helped to pay for them. The lodging costs for the family were around $12,000. The subsequent treatments will cost $15,000 each, and anyone interested in helping to finance them can do so by contacting www.dannycox707.com/.

McGowan is very optimistic about the upcoming treatments.

"The institute doesn't make any guarantee, but the staff there has told us that he could regain 40 percent of his functions. We're hoping for more than that," McGowan said.

"No one really knows what is possible because everyone gets different things back. I'm just hoping for the best," Cox said, adding that in particular, he would like to be able to regain hand functions.

"I can feel my hands, but can't use them. I would like to be able to hold a fork on my own," he said.

Since returning to his granny unit, next to his family's home in west Petaluma, Cox has been undergoing physical rehabilitation three times per week at both the Petaluma Valley Athletic Club and Spinal Cord Injury Functional Integrated Therapy facility in Pleasanton, as well as every day at home.

"I've got some hip and &‘ab' muscles back," he said.

Many people have commented on Cox's improvements.

"Sometimes, I don't notice the changes as much, because I see him every day. After we came back, one of Danny's doctors said that Danny seems to be a different person," McGowan said.

(Contact Dan Johnson at dan.johnson@arguscourier.com)