Paralyzed New York City teen is now walking again months after breaking spine

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Dec. 2, 2018, was a day one Staten Island teenager will never forget.

"It was just a typical December day," Michael Wright said.

It was chilly out.

"I was planning to go to the annual Polar Plunge with a bunch of my friends to raise money for the Special Olympics because this was my second year at St. Peter's doing it," Michael said. "I never knew it would be an event that would change my life forever."

The 17-year-old didn't want to go into the details of that horrific experience but his plunge into the cold water at South Beach on Staten Island left him immediately paralyzed from the neck down—the result of two broken bones in this spine.

"It was a very emotional day because for a young person like Michael to lose functions like that," Dr. Edwin Chang. "We didn't know what the future held for him."

Chang was the neurosurgeon on call that day at Staten Island University Hospital. He and his team acted immediately. Still, the chance of Michael ever walking again was less than 1%. Chang didn't know how to answer that one tough question from Michael and his family.

"I couldn't look him straight in his eyes and tell him that he could walk again," Chang said. "And his parents asked the same question and I had a difficult time facing that at the time, I had to admit."

But Michael's nearly full recovery is an absolute miracle. The high school senior is now getting ready to cross the stage at his graduation in June.

"It strengthened my faith in a lot of ways and hopefully gives others who are less fortunate in their injuries, it will give them a sense of hope and sense that you should never really give up," Michael said.

This surgery was a difficult one. Surgeons placed the broken bones of Michael's spine in a titanium cage and fused them with rods and screws. The bones are expected to fully heal over the course of 9 to 12 months.

Michael is looking forward to a bright future. He starts school at John Jay College in the fall, where he plans to study pre-law.