A slow-motion ballet is unfolding on a gym mat in the family room of Dom inic King's Englewood home.
Cradled in the arms of physical therapist Kelly Leid, 10-year-old Dom inic rolls gracefully, stretches, pushes, bends, holds — to the accompaniment of his friend, Harrison Spiers, in the next room cheering on the Rockies in his best stadium voice.
The moves may look rhythmic and effortless, but they are hard, tiring work — work that would have been harder, if not impossible, three months ago.
Dominic, like Harrison, has cerebral palsy. And when the boys started fifth grade a few weeks ago, they had amazing stories to share about what they did over summer vacation: After months of fundraising, the best friends went to Germany with their families for a stem-cell treatment that their parents hope will be as life-changing as it is groundbreaking.
Now, back home, their big adventure is behind them. And the work is just beginning.
So, too, their parents hope, is the progress.
For Dominic, the most significant improvement has been his ability to focus his eyes, his mom said.
"He says he feels more relaxed, his head strength is better," Christina King said.
"I see a little most every day," said Harrison's mom, Alicia Spiers.
Some of the milestones are significant — Harrison can roll himself over now. He holds his head up without his chin sinking into his chest. His speech is clearer.
Other improvements are the kind only a mom would recognize, she acknowledged.
Christina King agreed: "They don't seem huge, but they are to me."
Judging by the grin on his face as he smacked a toy baseball with a rubber bat and sent the ball flying, they're significant to Harrison too.
The toy bat and ball are part of the props Leid has brought for the boys' weekly physical-therapy session.
Harrison went first, and for a boy who lives and breathes baseball, the gizmo is more fun than therapy. Just being able to hoist that little bat, keep his eyes on the ball, aim and swing, that's huge.
Dr. Nancy Hadley-Miller, professor of pediatric orthopedic surgery at the University of Colorado Health Science Center, describes cerebral palsy as a term for a grab bag of neurological deficits that can create anything from minor problems walking to profound difficulty swallowing.
In the most common type of cerebral palsy, the body's mechanisms for keeping nerve impulses in check is out of whack.
"Neurological flow is unchecked, so muscles get too much turn-on activity, too much 'go juice,' " Hadley-Miller said.
It is that overflow of impulses that creates the spasticity and lack of muscle control that are hallmarks of cerebral palsy.
The condition itself does not worsen over time, but its consequences can, as muscles stiffen and bones grow.
Doctors once thought cerebral palsy was caused by infants not getting enough oxygen in their brains during birth, Hadley-Miller said. Now, doctors recognize that isn't necessarily the case and that there may be something else going on, she said.
What exactly that something else might be is not entirely clear. But its effects are abundantly clear in the King and Spiers households.
Both boys need wheelchairs to get around; both have trouble keeping their heads up. And both get frustrated when the words that form so easily in their heads come so slowly from their mouths.
"We've done therapy for so many years; nothing could change him long term," Alicia Spiers said.
When she and her husband heard about the procedure, they were intrigued. But first, she said, "We tried to find out if we could do it another way. We knew we couldn't do it in the U.S."
Eventually, both families determined the only way to have the procedure done was to leave the country. And of the handful of countries that offered it, both were most comfortable going to XCell Center in Germany.
"We prayed, and we really felt good about doing this procedure," Spiers said.
According to the XCell Center's website, the private clinic first collects stem cells from the patient's own bone marrow. The cells are then processed in the lab, checked for quality and quantity, and put back into the body days later.
"These reinjected stem cells have the potential to transform into multiple types of cells and are capable of regenerating damaged tissue," the website states.
The center reports that of 30 cerebral- palsy patients treated, 70 percent reported improvement.
Hadley-Miller said she hasn't read research on this particular procedure but that she is eager to learn more about it.
"But I do know enough about stem-cell research that I would have questions as to how they would be so far ahead of everybody," she said.
She said the use of stem cells within children in this way is ahead of any procedure currently done in the U.S.
"I think with stem-cell research, we haven't hit the tip of the iceberg of what it possibly can do," Hadley-Miller said. "But like every other research you do, you open a kettle of moral and ethical values. We still have a lot of sorting out to do in the U.S."
In the meantime, Dominic and Harrison, and their parents, have a lot of work to do. Near the end of his 45-minute therapy session, his back stretched over a red exercise ball, his feet touching the mat on one side of the ball, his eyes peering at an upside-down world from the other side, Dominic raised his arms. He was flying.
Karen Auge: 303-954-1733 or firstname.lastname@example.org