Student walks despite diagnosis

“He’ll never walk again.”

That’s what Gardnerville resident Megan McKenzie said doctors told her and husband Mike McKenzie while their 15-year-old son was recovering from broken vertebrae and a spinal cord injury sustained in a summer diving accident.

“We were told by every doctor that he wouldn’t walk again,” Megan McKenzie said. “For him to be walking right now is a miracle.”

On Friday, McKenzie reported that son Dillon McKenzie, a sophomore and junior varsity player at Douglas High School, is now walking with the help of crutches.

“He’s doing wonderful. He was released from the hospital Oct. 18. For about two months, he was at Shriners (Sacramento), and then at Carson-Tahoe rehab for about a month,” McKenzie said. “Three weeks ago, he started high school. He goes to school in a wheelchair because he’s a little weak, but he’s getting his mobility back.”

McKenzie said Dillon is participating in outpatient rehabilitation three days a week after school, including physical and occupational therapy.

“He’s had the most positive attitude the entire time,” she said. “He’s definitely a fighter. Being a football player, being athletic, has helped. Before, he couldn’t move his arms or hands. Now, his arms are getting stronger. He’s walking on crutches. Maybe the next step will be a cane, then hopefully one day nothing.”

It has been almost five months since the accident. After football practice on July 7, Dillon went to Carson Valley Swim Center with some friends to cool off. At the outdoor pool, he dove into a no-diving area and struck his head on the cement. Instantly paralyzed, he was pulled from the water by a lifeguard on duty, treated by paramedics, and later flown by helicopter to Renown Regional Medical Center in Reno, where he underwent two surgeries to fuse vertebrae in the front and back of his neck.

In the wake of the accident, the Carson Valley community rallied around the family. Residents followed Dillon’s progress on and left hundreds of messages of support. Local businesses organized fundraisers to help the family with medical expenses.

“I really want to thank the community,” Megan McKenzie. “I want to thank Carson-Tahoe hospital, and Great Basin Imaging who donated money for us. I want to thank everybody who’s been so helpful, the whole football team and the football coaches who’ve been supportive. They all came together to really lift Dillon’s spirits. All the kids at the high school have been wonderful. I also want to thank our family and friends for their support.”

McKenzie said Dillon loves being back at school. She said he’s even considering a career in sports medicine.

“He’s very happy to be back with his friends,” she said. “He does have a girlfriend. It’s funny … the girls fight over him.”

by Scott Neuffer

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