Severe spinal cord injury inspires student to help others

Jan 15, 2018

A Canisius High School senior has made a remarkable recovery from a severe spinal cord injury.  WBFO's senior reporter Eileen Buckley says he's now using his own experience to help others.

“Welcome to Connecting The Resilient,” said Andrew Mangan in a podcast.

Andrew Mangan, Canisius High School senior, is recovery from a severe spinal cord injury.
Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley

Mangan created a website called "Connecting The Resilient.”  A year ago last December the Canisius High school student dove into a snow bank causing a severe injury.

“I was in a hot tub and I got out of the hot tub and I jumped into what I thought was just powder and I kind of belly flopped into there and still, to this day, don’t really know what I hit. But I hit something that pushed my head up and broke my fifth vertebra into three pieces and then one of those pieces went into my spinal cord, which ultimately caused the paralysis,” described Mangan.

The Derby teenager lost his mobility. He was initially treated at ECMC and underwent two surgeries.

“And I couldn’t really move anything below my chest and I couldn’t move my hands at all and then I stayed at ECMC for I think it was ten days and then I was transferred Craig Spine Center out in Denver, Colorado. They focus on spinal cord injuries and brain injuries.  And so I stayed there for 70-days where I did intensive rehab, and then, thankfully, through hard work and all the people doctors out there, I walked out of there with crutches and came back here – that was March 4,” recalls Mangan.

Now Mangan is just using a cane.  But through his spinal cord injury journey, the teenager discovered there is no defined prognosis.                

Andrew Mangan, Canisius High School senior, is recovery from a severe spinal cord injury.
Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley

“They’ll never say – ‘you’re starting to recover’, ‘you’ll have a great recovery’ or ‘you might not have a great recovery’ – so the whole recovery is very vague, but given where I am now and given my progress the past year, it’s very likely,” Mangan said.

But youth and an active lifestyle have made a big difference in Mangan's recovery. He is a rower and skies.  However, he has gained a new appreciation for his body.

“Having to learn every single thing – from crawling, to standing to walking to starting to run – probably the most eye opening,” remarked Mangan.   

Mangan has been able to return to rowing and skiing. He said he has met a great group of people throughout his recovery and has been inspired by others who suffered more difficult injuries.

“And these people are quadriplegics for life and they are just unbelievable positive and it’s really inspiring for me,” Mangan noted. 

In the midst of his recovery, Mangan was able to complete his studies.  He’s been accepted to Stanford University and will attend and study computer science and mechanical engineering. But Mangan tells us he will work to incorporate his experience into his future career to help others.

“In some way – further the research – whether that’s helping to build neural nets or helping to work on all the different bionics they’re using now,” Mangan said.  “I realize more how necessary that is – being at the receiving end of so much giving throughout this past year and that’s one reason I started "Connecting The Resilient” is to try help other spinal cord injury patients.”

Through podcasting, other injured patients can share their stories around the globe. It’s helping them cope and recover.        

"The goal is to get as many different opinions and recommendations about the spinal cord injury because everybody’s seen different things and if you can hear about a story, about someone who’s similar to yourself that had a great recover, then hopefully that can inspire you to keep working or reach out to them and see what they did.  The more I can share about what I did to maximize my recovery, the better,” Mangan declared.