Wrestling Coach Temporarily Paralyzed By Injury

Published: December 3, 2004
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Coach Considers Himself ‘Blessed,’ Not Lucky

BALTIMORE — A high school wrestling coach who was 15 minutes away from being paralyzed says he’s blessed.

On Nov. 22, Mike Zito, 35, who is Loyola High School’s assistant wrestling coach, lost the use of all four extremities for 15 minutes.

“I heard a crack. I did not know for certain if it was broken and I knew there was something wrong,” Zito said.

Zito suffered his injury after demonstrating a takedown wrestling move with a 220-pound student, when his head hit the wrestling mat.

Doctors diagnosed Zito with congenital Cervical spinal stenosis with herniated discs. He was immediately taken to St. Joseph Medical Center’s emergency room, where treatment included high-dose steroids.

Dr. Paul McAfee, a spinal surgeon at St. Joseph, removed Zito’s damaged discs of the spinal cord and performed a spinal fusion to support his spine where the discs were removed. Surgeons implanted a titanium plate and screw device in the front of Zito’s neck to provide stability.

“The whole disc was pressed against the spinal cord, and the spinal cord didn’t have any blood supply for at least 15 minutes,” McAfee said.

McAfee said the fusion procedure was necessary to prevent reinjury that could exacerbate Zito’s condition or permanently paralyze him.

But after all this, doctors expect Zito to make a full recovery. Doctors said Zito has already regained nerve root function.

McAfee said Zito is a lucky man.

“He couldn’t move his arm and legs for 15 minutes, he knew he had neck pain, he didn’t know if he had broken his neck. Fortunately, he had two discs that were ruptured against his spinal cord, so he knows how close he came to being paralyzed forever,” McAfee said.

But Zito doesn’t consider himself lucky.

“[I’m] blessed, not lucky, blessed,” he said.

Zito wrestled as a student at Dundalk High School and has been coaching wrestling for years.

“Christmas comes in a lot of ways to people. I guess [this is] me receiving a miracle, for the most part, because that’s exactly what I received, a miracle,” Zito said.

Copyright 2004 by TheWBALChannel.com.