Six months ago, when police officer Ryan Marron arrived at the world-renowned Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, climbing stairs was an impossible feat.
Deep concentration, huge effort and determination are etched across his face as he stands wobbling with support from his therapist at the bottom of a staircase.
Const. Marron, 30, is preparing to walk up five steps, a movement most of us make every day without a second thought.
He used to do it without thinking, too, until his life was shattered by Murray Valley encephalitis - a virus carried by mosquitoes that causes potentially fatal swelling of the brain. He contracted it in the Kimberley 17 months ago.
"Explode it! There you go. Let's do it, dude! Go, go, go!"
Physical therapist Mike Klonowski encourages Const. Marron as he holds him by the waist. "Beautiful, Ryan. All the way up. Big step, dude! There you go," he says as Const. Marron reaches the top step.
A single mosquito bite caused Const. Marron a devastating brain injury that rendered him helpless, unable to walk or talk and with an unknown prognosis. Now, with only light support from his therapist, he walks a lap of the institute's state-of-the-art patient recovery ward in just a few minutes.
"The first time we got up walking there was a lot of effort from me," Mr Klonowski said.
"I think the first day we walked about 20 feet or so and that took a lot of energy and a lot of help and now we're walking 300 feet at a time without using the walker."
_The Weekend West _ visited Const. Marron in Chicago during his last few days of therapy before Const. Marron arrived home in WA yesterday.
The $800,000 medical bill for six months rehabilitation was paid for by public donations and, after months of lobbying, a State Government grant.
Seeing the young 1.83m man struggle to take a step and get a word out is heartbreaking, but his determination is impressive.
Const. Marron's partner Toni Misitano, who slept on a single fold-out sofa next to his hospital bed, said he was determined to return to work but needed more time and treatment to recover.
"The last six months that Ryan's spent here getting treatment has given me a huge amount of hope," Toni said. "The gains that Ryan has made here really project into the future that things are going to continue to get better." But the couple fear Const. Marron could be medically retired from the police force.
"Returning to work is one of the biggest motivations he has to get through this," Toni said. "He wants to get back to work and he won't stop until he's achieved his goal."
Elliot Roth, Const. Marron's physician and director of the institute's recovery unit, said his therapy was highly intensive with up to six hours a day of physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy and gym workouts.
"Ryan's made a great deal of progress here and he's had a substantial recovery," Dr Roth said.
"He's improved his balance. He's able to sit better, stand better, take steps and he's especially improved in his endurance."
But while Const. Marron's walking and strength has improved, his speech has still not returned. As we sit in Const. Marron's room, which is adorned with Hawks memorabilia and photographs of family and friends, it is clear that this is what distresses the young couple most.
"Just the frustration Ryan must feel, I can't even imagine. Ryan not even being able to talk about this himself and what his thoughts and feelings are about it. It's heart-breaking to watch," Toni says tearfully as Const. Marron breaks down beside her.
"The most important thing is being able to communicate and what you share. I can't even describe what it's been like. It's what you cry yourself to sleep over."
Const. Marron will continue therapy at a private hospital in Perth.
"It's likely that Ryan will be able to return to work in some capacity and I quite honestly don't know what capacity that is but I really do think he will be able to do some substantial functions," Dr Roth said.
Const. Marron and Toni are looking forward to watching Const. Marron's beloved Hawks play in the AFL grand final today and surrounded by family and friends.
Before leaving the US for home, Toni asks: "How much are you looking forward to going home, Ryan?"
He slowly points to A, L, O, T on his alphabet board.
"Was it worth coming out here to work on this stuff or not," Toni asks. Const. Marron nods.
"Do you feel like you've made some good changes," Toni asks.
The officer nods - and the tears flow again.