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Lillia Callum-Penso/Greenville News

The USC student who was paralyzed by a stray bullet in October is making tremendous progress in physical therapy and should be home before Christmas, according to her doctors at the Shepherd Center in Atlanta.

"We are especially happy that she and Pam will be home in time for Christmas," said Jim Carpenter, Childress' uncle, who has acted as a spokesperson for the family of the J.L. Mann graduate.

"We are all very proud of her because of the way that she has dealt with this adversity. It has been a temporary setback, but only a temporary one."

Martha Childress entered the spinal chord rehabilitation program at that Shepherd Center Oct. 21 for therapy following a gunshot wound that left her paralyzed from the waist down.

The 18-year-old USC freshman was shot while she and a friend were waiting for a taxi back to campus in Columbia's Five Points district Oct. 13. Childress was struck by a stray bullet, authorities have said, and she suffered damage to her liver, kidneys and lungs.

Recovery has been a long process, but after two months of physical therapy, Childress seems to have reached a turning point.

"We are thrilled with not only the progress Martha has made since she has been with us, but also with how she has adjusted to this devastating injury," Dr. Anna Elmers, Childress' physician at the Shepherd Center, said in a statement.

At the Shepherd Center, Childress' therapy has focused not only on how to use her body again, but on how to adjust to life now that she is in a wheelchair.

"She always has a smile when I see her, even when she is in pain," Elmers said. "It has been such a pleasure to take care of her."

That positive attitude is classic Martha, Carpenter said.

Childress has always had an impressive spirit about her, Carpenter said, ever since she was a little girl.

In high school at J.L. Mann, Childress was involved with the yearbook and swam and played golf, Carpenter told GreenvilleOnline in October. She had just pledged the Zeta Tau Alpha sorority on the day before she was shot, he said.

Carpenter said early on his niece, a 4.0 student in high school, was concerned about getting behind in her classes.

Childress plans to continue her education once home. In a statement, she said she plans to enroll in online classes in January and has set a goal of returning to campus at USC in the fall.

"I'm beyond thankful to be alive," Childress said. "I cannot believe the outpouring of support and prayers from those not only in South Carolina, but around the country, as well. I am thankful for my treatment team at Shepherd Center for teaching me how to live again.

"I am also thankful to those who have constantly kept me in their thoughts. I can't wait to get back to my life and live as normally as possible."

Donations for Childress can be made to a trust fund set up for her: Martha Childress Trust Fund LLC, P.O. Box 25653, Greenville, SC 29616. Online donations can be made at www.elephantstrong.org.

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