By Colin Markarian
Special to Niagara Frontier Publications
Andrew Mangan has always been an overachiever and very competitive, which runs in his family of eight. His mother and father chose to homeschool all of their children up until the high school level, at which point Mangan attended Canisius High School, a private boys Jesuit school, in Buffalo. Like all of his siblings, Mangan was an outstanding rower and an accomplished downhill ski racer.
Athletics weren't the only area he excelled in, Mangan was an outstanding student. He carried with him many characteristics of a Jesuit education - one of which is "Men for and with Others." What this means is that Mangan has a willingness to share all of his gifts with others, which is what inspired him to share an experience. This moment portrays perseverance in one's darkest moments, in the hope of helping others.
Mangan, at the age of 17, was relaxing with his buddies on cold winter night after a long day of skiing. He recalls enjoying the fresh, beautiful snow all around him as he sat in a hot tub. This calm and relaxing night took a turn.
"I belly flopped into a pile of what I thought was four feet of freshly fallen powder and hit a chunk of hard-packed snow," Mangan wrote in his book, "Plugged In: How Mind Machine Interfaces Will Transform the World." The result of this impact left Mangan with his fifth vertebrae broken into three pieces. One of those went into his spinal cord resulting in paralysis from the chest down.
How could something so life-altering happen to a student athlete as talented as Mangan? How does someone this young, who was being recruited by some of the top universities as a heavy weight rower, comprehend the words "Your neck is broken"?
Mangan was rushed to Erie County Medical Center, a level-one trauma care center in Buffalo. His never-faltering positive attitude triggered his long road to recovery. He needed two emergency spinal cord surgeries, where a cadaver bone, titanium plates and screws were used to stabilize the broken vertebrae.
Only time would tell what kind of recovery he would be facing. Mangan remained in Erie County Medical Center's ICU for 10 days. Doctors needed to wait for the swelling to go down around his spinal cord in order to make any recommendations. Mangan shared that it was very frustrating, because doctors didn't have enough information to give him the answers he was looking for.
When asked, "What advice would you give to someone with a new spinal cord injury," he responded, "It's never as bad as it initially seems; stay positive, because there is no limit to what you can do."
Fortunately, for Mangan, who had entered the hospital paralyzed, he was now slowly able to move different muscles. Four days after his injury, he was able to move his knees, and by day five he was slowly and painfully feeding himself. At this point, he needed to be moved to a rehabilitation center, where his real work would begin.
After much research conducted by his family, the Mangans decided they would go to Craig Spine Center for a 70-day rehabilitation program. Andrew, his father David, and brother Connor were airlifted to Craig Spine Center in Denver.
Craig is one of the best spinal cord injury rehabs in the country. Its specially trained staff members show extensive care for their patients. As stated in "Empowering Lives: Specialty Rehab for People with Spinal Cord Injury and Brain Injury," The facility's "individualized, comprehensive, and family-oriented approach to inpatient spinal cord injury rehabilitation and treatment creates a caring culture of hope and possibilities."
This family-oriented approach was not any different than the "Mangan Family Approach" to a problem. It was no surprise that Andrew's mother and the rest of the family drove out to meet them in Denver.
Upon entering Craig, Mangan had very limited movement in his head and arms. He wrote, "I was determined, however, to do as much as I could to walk out of that hospital."
With the encouragement and support from his family, Mangan began the most intense 70 days of rehabilitation. His movements progressed slowly. It was 13 days after the accident that he was finally able to move his toes. This was on Christmas day - and his greatest present ever. The muscle strength in his quads came back first, but his hamstrings took a little more time. Mangan was able to stand in a harness (75 percent body weight) only 20 days after his injury. His determination and the amount of pressure he put on himself led him to walking in a harness with assistance from trainers who moved his legs. Miraculously, he was using a walker two weeks later.
By day 80, he was walking with hand crutches. All of this was accomplished by moving his legs as much as possible, doing exercises, and lots of kicking. With the use of ellipticals, swimming and an underwater treadmill that allowed him to walk in water.
Different family members were at Mangan's side every step of the way.
Intense rehab was also necessary for him to regain motion in his hands. With the use of hand exercise machines and a lot of e-stim, progress was made, but very slow at first. However, with hard work and dedication, by day 90, his right hand was working at about 90 percent and his left hand at about 60 percent. In spite of the fact the feeding took forever and was very frustrating, Mangan insisted on feeding himself.
Finally, it was time for him to start strengthening his core. By day 70, he was able to sit upright. He accomplished this by doing good, old-fashioned exercises, including leg-raises, bridges, work on exercise balls and sit-ups.
It is important to mention that medications are used with all spinal cord injuries and are different for each patient. Mangan was not in favor of being on medications. During his first week in the hospital, he was able to wean off all pain meds, because he hadn't suffered any other injuries. He wrote it was important to skip anti-depressants. He kept his energy up by constantly moving.
All of this hard work, positive attitude, support and determination resulted in Mangan walking out the front doors of Craig Spine Center with only the use of crutches. He was then committed to two hours of rehab a day for 15 months straight. That rehab will continue for the rest of his life.
The fact the doctors never gave a prognosis or said Mangan would walk out of the hospital was frustrating for him, but he realized that even neurologists don't fully understand how spinal cord injuries affects each patient.
Mangan explained a turning point in his recovery that alleviated some frustration. He was put into contact with someone who had experienced a very similar spinal cord injury. This patient Mangan reached out to was fortunate enough to have a very successful recovery. This gave Mangan hope and, because of his initial frustration, he formulated a hypothesis of his own.
This special connection with this patient lead Mangan to create his own blog, Connecting the Resilient (www.connectingtheresilient.com
). This blog is a platform for spinal cord injury information. He created it because there was a lack of information on spinal cord injuries due to their uniqueness. By connecting patients with similar injuries, they can share stories and their recovery experiences.
Connecting the Resilient lead Mangan to creating podcasts that can be followed on iTunes ("Connecting the Resilient"). He shares stories, interviews and experiences all related to spinal cord injuries.
As if he hasn't already accomplished enough, on top of all this, Mangan, now 19, graduated at the top of his high school class and was accepted to Stanford University starting in the fall of 2019. He will pursue a degree in computer engineering, with a focus in machine learning. This interest in machine learning lead him to writing and publishing his first book, "Plugged In: How Mind and Machine Interfaces will Transform the World."
In an interview, Mangan was asked what inspired him to write this book? He responded, "I was, and am not happy with the amount of information and options available for spinal cord patients."
"I wanted to come away from the human side and look at the technical side of the recovery options for spinal cord injury patients," he said.
Niagara Frontier Publications works with the Niagara University Communication Studies Department to publish the capstone work of students in CMS 120A-B.
These articles do not necessarily reflect the opinions or beliefs of NFP, NU or the communication studies department.
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