DERBY, N.Y. (WIVB)- A jump in a snow bank last December changed Andrew Mangan’s life forever.
“I was in bed, the phone rang, and it was Andrew. And he said ‘Mom something bad happened,'” Andrew’s mom Martha told News 4.
That something bad was the fracture of his C5 vertebra.
The Canisius High junior hit something hard when he jumped into the snow, he’s still not sure what.
The injury paralyzed him from the chest down.
“The most immediate thing I realized was that I couldn’t feel any temperature. I couldn’t feel the cold snow,” the Andrew, 17, told News 4.
The avid skier and member of the Canisius High School rowing team was rushed to ECMC.
“All my family came in within a week, and right away they started researching where the best centers were.”
The Mangans ended up in Denver, Colorado at Craig Hospital, which specializes in spinal cord injuries.
For months, Andrew celebrated little victories; raising a finger or lifting an arm.
Eventually, he was walking again.
“Throughout my recovery my older brothers kind of put me through the boot camp. They’d push me when sometimes I’d want to stop or take a break,” he said of his brothers.
Andrew’s rowing teammates also served as a source of motivation, he told News 4.
As with many spinal cord injuries, doctors couldn’t tell Andrew exactly when he’d be better, or even if he’d be better.
Martha said it was Andrew’s positivity that kept the entire family of eight going.
“That was really important throughout it all because he never looked back. So he was kind of the drummer boy and we followed him.”
The Mangans are an athletic family, and for years they’d talked about rowing in a regatta together, all eight of them.
After Andrew’s accident, and and his recovery, they decided this year was the year.
His older siblings flew in from around the country, and ‘The Mangan Eight’ hit the water for the annual ‘Head of the Charles’ Regatta in Boston Oct. 22.
“Once we realized we were going to, we’d be able to finish the race, the entire family took in the moment,” Martha said.
After three miles of rowing, that finish line was more than the end of a race; it was the start of a new chapter, one Andrew said he always knew would come.
“It just kind of both proved to myself and to the SCI community as a whole that a lot of these injuries aren’t permanent. You can come back from them, and whether you have a full recovery or a partial recovery, it’s kind of just your outlook on it.”
Andrew, who still trains every day, plans to return to the crew team at Canisius this spring.
Since his injury, he’s started a website called Connecting the Resilient, where people can share their personal stories with spinal cord injuries.
Each spinal cord injury is unique, and doctors will provide medical guidance to their patients, but Andrew said having a place to share triumphs and struggles has been a helpful outlet for many.
For Andrew, pushing himself to move and stay active during his recovery proved successful. He shares exercise tips and training techniques with other SCI patients. Several patients and their families have reached out to the Mangans through the site.