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Photos: Chanda Hinton Leichtle is out to change how Medicaid treats spinal cord injuries

The fourteen-year-old boy who accidentally shot nine-year-old Chanda Hinton Leichtle in 1991 thought the rifle was unloaded. It wasn't, and the bullet severed her spinal cord and left her paralyzed below the chest. This week's feature, "Body Movin'," tells how Hinton Leichtle became an advocate for people with spinal cord injuries and embarked on a contentious journey to start a Medicaid pilot program involving acupuncture, massage therapy and chiropractic services.

The pilot program allows 67 adults with spinal cord injuries who live in five counties -- Denver, Adams, Arapahoe, Douglas and Jefferson -- to enroll in a new Medicaid waiver. Waivers are granted to states by the feds for the purpose of testing new ways of delivering health-care services. This particular waiver pays for participants to get acupuncture, massage and chiropractic services in addition to their other benefits.

Hinton Leichtle and her nonprofit foundation, The Chanda Plan Foundation, have created a Tumblr with information on how to enroll. The pilot program is on the brink of starting and will run until 2015. At that time, an evaluation of whether the program saved money (as proponents say it will) and made participants healthier (which proponents also claim) will be presented to lawmakers, who will decide whether to continue it.

Hinton Leichtle credits alternative therapies with saving her life. At 21, she began experiencing chronic pain. A terrible burning feeling would start at her feet and creep up, intensifying until it was hard for her to breathe. Doctors prescribed Percocet to treat the pain, but the pills' side effects made it impossible for her to eat. Her weight dropped to 59 pounds and she wound up in the hospital, bed-bound and weak.

Soon afterward, her sister suggested she try alternative therapies. Hinton Leichtle started with acupuncture and for the first time in years, she had no pain.

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For more, read our feature, "Body Movin'."

Continue reading for more photos of Hinton Leichtle through the years. Continue for more photos of Hinton Leichtle. Continue for more photos of Hinton Leichtle today. More from our News archive: "Photos: Union Station is transforming from sleepy train stop to multi-modal hub."

Follow me on Twitter @MelanieAsmar or e-mail me at melanie.asmar@westword.com

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