BRIGHAM CITY — Anna Harrington has dreamed of walking across the United States for something bigger than herself since she was 12.

Thursday and Friday, she made her way through Brigham City and into Ogden as part of that lifelong dream.

It was nine years ago when Harrington found a cause she could get behind. She learned her then-14-year-old paraplegic nephew, Matthew Harrington, had developed a spinal curve disorder called scoliosis.

"Having both (paraplegia and scoliosis) complicates things," Harrington said, making Matthew's situation dire.

Harrington visited her nephew at Shriners Hospital for Children in Sacramento, which had accepted Matthew after his complex medical issues precluded him from being treated at his local hospital in Texas.

Matthew's surgery was a successful treatment of his scoliosis, but that wasn't the only life-altering effect his stay at Shriners had on the family; what his aunt saw in the halls there had inspired her.

Harrington spent time getting to know the other families at Shriners and found herself blown away by the diversity of the critical care offered there — everything from scoliosis and burn injuries to clef lip treatment and orthopeadics.

The one problem: Harrington caught wind of talk that some Shriners hospitals, which have experienced some financial trouble over the past decade, were either being downsized or considered for closure.

"They had considered closing a couple of facilities ... because of a dwindling endowment," Harrington said. "I found it troubling because I wanted what was available to (Matthew) to be available to other children."

Harrington began her walk across the country on March 1. Her goal is to support Shriners Hospitals across the country by raising awareness of the life-saving and life-enhancing work they do for young people. Nine of Shriners' 22 hospitals nationwide are on her route, including the one in Salt Lake City.

Harrington plans to tour each facility and visit with staff and patients along the way. It's a way to raise funds and awareness, but she said there's something in it for her too.

"It's inspiring to be there. They're the actual heroes," Harrington said of the patients and caregivers.

Matthew feels the same way about Shriners and is behind her journey 100 percent, she added.

"Oh, he thinks it's great," she said. "He always wanted to do something for (Shriners in return). He just didn't know what that was​. ... And now we have this."

Harrington, a lifelong outdoor enthusiast, walks about 20 miles per day, sometimes more, and hopes to conclude her journey in Boston by roughly end of September. She doesn't have an exact goal for her arrival date because weather can be a major factor in her travelling speed.

"I probably will set a date when I get closer," Harrington said.

Her journey began on the Pacific coast in Astoria, Oregon and has so far taken her through several rain and snow storms, three states, half a dozen media interviews and the homes of countless strangers.

"What's stood out most to me is the people," Harrington said. "The hardest part is leaving them behind."

Harrington gets her room and board each night from a volunteer host each night, most of whom are Shriners Hospitals employees or their friends and family. Several of them have offered to buy her shoes or take her out to dinner, and some have driven 50 or more miles just to catch up with her several days after she left their city.

"They've taken care of me," Harrington said. "I'll sometimes be tearing up when I say good bye."

The Arizona native and Boise transplant praised Utah's natural landscape as well.

"I think it's one of the most beautiful states," Harrington said. "I'm not just saying that​. It's wonderful."

Anyone interested in donating to Anna's journey or Shriners Hospitals for Children can do so at www.annaswalk.com.

Contact reporter Ben Lockhart at 801-625-4221 or blockhart@standard.net. Follow him on Twitter at @SE_Lockhart.

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