Click photo to enlarge
Christopher Rodriquez ,10, does a wheelie down the hall of the fourth floor of Childrens Hosptial on Wednesday March 5 in Oakland.
OAKLAND — Chris Rodriguez can't wait to go home. He can't wait to play Guitar Hero III with his mom again, or to eat one of his favorite meals, mandarin orange chicken from Trader Joe's.

His doctors say he will have his wish — likely in a matter of days. After nearly eight weeks in the hospital recovering from a bullet wound, Chris says he looks forward to "going back home, going to school, trying to live my normal life."

But life will be different in many ways for the 10-year-old Oakland boy who was paralyzed by a stray bullet during a piano lesson Jan. 10. The bullet pierced the wall of his music school and tore through a piano before it hit Chris,

damaging his spleen and kidney and severing his spine.

Unless there is a major advancement in stem cell treatment — which is possible — Chris will probably not walk again, his doctor says.

"I expect him to go to high school. I expect him to go to college. I expect him to learn to drive an adaptive car," said Dr. Jacob Neufeld, director of the pediatric rehabilitation unit at Children's Hospital Oakland, where Chris has been hospitalized since the shooting. But, Neufeld added, "He's going to require specialty care for the rest of his life."

Chris is a fifth-grader at Crocker Highlands, a high-performing public elementary school northeast of Lake Merritt. Before the fateful music lesson, he played basketball on his school's YMCA team, and he was learning to skateboard.

Jared Adams, who was 24 at the time, is awaiting trial on charges of attempted murder and robbery, among other felonies. Police say Adams fired a gun during the robbery of a gas station across the street from the Harmony Road Music School in North Oakland. One of the shots hit Jennifer Rodriguez's car as she waited for her son to finish his lesson.

The story of the piano lesson tragedy stunned people across the city and far beyond, prompting a gun buy-back event in Oakland and various fundraisers for the Rodriguez family, including a pajama party in which Chris's classmates donated their allowances. The Oakland Youth Chorus is holding a benefit show at 7 p.m. March 19 at the First Unitarian Church of Oakland.

As the weeks passed, Chris regained his ability to eat solid food, and he grew stronger. Now he not only deftly maneuvers his wheelchair, but he executes impressive "wheelies" by thrusting the heavy front wheels into the air.

On Wednesday, Chris and some friends from school played a competitive game of mini-pool in the hospital's teen lounge. If he was troubled by his injury, he didn't show it. His dad later noted that if it weren't for the wheelchair, visitors might come away from the hospital with the impression that he simply had a bad cold.

In reality, Chris endures chronic discomfort, including a sometimes terrible pain in his legs (caused by damaged nerves which send incorrect signals to the brain).

"It gets really bad at night," he said. "Sometimes I can't sleep."

As their son gets ready to leave the hospital, Jennifer and Richard Rodriguez are preparing to help care for him. They are researching Bay Area pain management clinics, and they will soon move into a wheelchair-accessible rental house while they search for a permanent home.

"We can be a family again, together," Jennifer Rodriguez said.

Chris's father also welcomes the family reunion. For the last two months, he and his wife have taken shifts at the hospital, often through most of the night. But, he said, "I'm a little nervous about it, because if things go wrong now, we're already at the hospital. We're not medical professionals."

Chris seemed more excited than anything about the transition back to home — and school, where he can get back to what he has really been missing these past two months: "My friends and recess and lunch."

TO HELP A trust fund under the name of Christopher G. Rodriguez has been established at the Piedmont Avenue branch of Wells Fargo bank, 151 40th St., Oakland CA 94611.

The Oakland Youth Chorus is holding a benefit show at 7 p.m. March 19 at the First Unitarian Church of Oakland, 685 14th St., Oakland. Tickets can be purchased online at www.oaklandyouthchorus.org or by calling the youth chorus at (510) 287-9700.

Local flutist Carol Alban has organized a benefit concert March 24 at Yoshi's in Jack London Square. Admission is $25 for the 8 p.m. show and $18 for 10 p.m. concert. Call (510) 238-9200 or visit www.yoshis.com for ticket information.

For updates on Chris's condition and upcoming events, or to send him a message, visit his Web site at http://christopherrodriguez.blogspot.com/.

Read Katy Murphy's Oakland schools blog at http://www.ibabuzz.com/education.