From paralysis to walking on his own: Donald's story
From day one at Spaulding, his caregivers made it clear that there was only one goal: Donald would walk out the doors. At 15, Donald McNeil was already one of the top ranked high school wrestlers in Massachusetts. His rare combination of power, speed and technique had garnered him attention nationwide in wrestling circles. In May 2007, he was invited to compete in a national tournament in Virginia, his proud family in attendance cheering him on.
For the first time Donald was competing in a heavier weight class against an older and larger opponent. Within a few moments of the start of the match it was apparent things were not going well. Donald's opponent had managed to lift Donald over his head and then slam him into the mat. The maneuver landed Donald directly on his neck, dislocating his vertebrae and paralyzing him on impact.
In the stands, his parents could only look on helplessly as Donald lay motionless. In the emergency room, doctors had to concentrate first on saving his life. He endured five hours of surgery to realign his spinal column after CT scans and x-rays revealed four to five dislocated vertebrae in his neck and a pinched spinal cord.
After stabilizing him, doctors told the McNeils the very real possibility that Donald may never walk again. Without hesitation, the McNeils chose Spaulding as the place for Donald to find hope, strength and recovery.
With little feeling from the neck down and no muscle control on his first day, the idea of walking again seemed t hopeful at best. But under the care of Dr. Kevin O'Connor and the Spaulding Spinal Cord Injury (SCI) Team, Donald made remarkable progress.
Within weeks of the fateful match, Donald took his first few steps. Eight weeks from the day Donald lay motionless on the mat, he walked out of Spaulding with his family, to the cheers of his care team.
Just eight months from that life-altering match in May 2007, Donald was back in school. Under the watchful eye of doctors and his parents, he's also back where he loves to be, on the wrestling mat. In fact, in February 2008 he finished first in the Massachusetts State Sectionals, and in May 2008 - just a year after his accident - he won a national tournament.
No matter how many matches Donald wins, his greatest triumph will always be the ability to step back on the mat.
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