Staten Island teen who suffered paralyzing polar plunge injury defies odds to walk again

NEW YORK (WABC) -- A Staten Island teenager is making miraculous strides in his recovery after suffering a paralyzing injury.

18-year-old Michael Wright severely fractured two vertebrae while participating in the Staten Island Polar Bear Plunge last December.

Doctors feared that Michael might never walk again.

But he has defied the odds and now intends to walk across the stage at his high school graduation in June.

On Thursday, Michael was re-united with the neurosurgery team at Staten Island University Hospital whose quick actions helped make the difference in his recovery.

He credits neurosurgeon Dr. Edwin Chang and the entire hospital team for getting him this far.

"We didnt know what the future held for him at the time," said Dr. Chang. "I wouldn't look him straight in his eyes and tell him he could walk again."

WATCH: SI doctors celebrate teen's 'miracle' recovery

Within minutes of the accident, Michael was in an ambulance on his way to the hospital's Emergency and Trauma Center.

He was paralyzed from the neck down, but lumbar fusion surgery was performed to relieve pressure on his spine.

The fractured segments of the spine were placed in a titanium cage and fused with rods and screws to heal over the course of 9-12 months and four months later, with the help of extensive physical therapy, he is walking again.

Doctors say there is usually a one percent chance of recovery with this type of injury.

Over the course of 30 years, Dr. Chang says only two other patients bounced back like Michael.

"He's an angel and he'll be in our life forever," said Michael's mother Melissa Wright.

And he'll be there when Michael strolls across the stage at graduation.

"He's a miracle worker and if it weren't for him, I probably wouldn't be standing here right now," said Michael.

Michael said he intends to use his experience to help others with spinal cord injuries who are not as fortunate.

He will attend John Jay College of Criminal Justice in the fall and wants to be an attorney.

* More Staten Island news
* Send us a news tip
* Download the abc7NY app for breaking news alerts
* Follow us on YouTube
Copyright © 2020 WABC-TV. All Rights Reserved.