A teenager who was left paralyzed from the waist down after a Polar Plunge is on his feet again, against the odds, and he is set to walk in his graduation ceremony.
Michael Wright, now 18, was 17 when he took part in Staten Island’s annual challenge in December to raise money for the Special Olympics: jumping into icy cold water from a height.
On impact, he broke two vertebrae in his neck, requiring four hours of surgery.
Afterwards he could barely move his arms and hands, and couldn’t move his legs at all.
He was given a one percent chance of recovery. Ninety-nine percent of people who suffer this kind of fracture are confined to a wheelchair for life.
Michael Wright, now 18, was 17 when he jumped into icy water and broke two vertebrae in his neck. He was given a 1 percent chance of recovery. Four months later, he’s walking (pictured, right, with his neurosurgeon Dr Edwin Chang)
Michael had shattered two of his vertebrae, crushed so badly that some of the bone fragment had gone into the spinal canal
His neurosurgeon, Dr Edwin Chang at Northwell Health, said Michael’s total recovery ‘was somewhat of a miracle’.
‘It was a very emotional day because, for a young person like Michael to lose functions like that, we didn’t know what the future held for him,’ Dr Chang said in press conference.
‘I couldn’t look him straight in his eyes and tell him that he would walk again.
‘His parents asked the same questions, of course, and I had a difficult time facing them at the time, I have to admit.
‘But all I knew was we had to do something.’
Michael had shattered two of his vertebrae, crushed so badly that some of the bone fragment had gone into the spinal canal.
He was whisked into surgery quickly, within two hours of his injury.
Michael was faced with months of rehabilitation and physical therapy to recover
Dr Chang and his team removed the fractured vertebrae and, in their place, put a spacer with Michael’s own crushed bones placed inside it.
Those crushed bones would eventually regrow and fuse with the rest of the cervical spine.
They also put in titanium screws and plates.
Then it was up to Michael, who was faced with months of rehabilitation and physical therapy.
‘It was still unpredictable was the outcome was from Michael at the time,’ Dr Chang said.
Dr Chang and his team removed the fractured vertebrae (which were at the top of his spine, where Dr Chang is pointing to) and, in their place, put a spacer with Michael’s own crushed bones placed inside it. Those crushed bones would eventually regrow and fuse with the rest of the cervical spine. They also put in titanium screws and plates
But the fact that he moved one toe in the recovery room gave the surgeons hope.
‘We were jumping up and down saying, ‘wow! He’s moving one toe!’,’ Dr Chang said.
Now, four months on, Michael is moving well. He still has a way to go but he has essentially made a full recovery, and is expected to be in near-perfect shape soon.
‘Obviously, it feels really good, but it also gives me a lot of faith, and a lot of happiness to be here,’ Michael said. ‘They just talk to me and they say that I inspire them and I just tell them to work hard, because, obviously, good things are going to happen afterwards.’
- To donate to Michael’s recovery GoFundMe, click here