Justin McCray, 17 yrs old, Spinal Cord Injury

Hattiesburg American - Injured Athlete to Return to School

By Stan Caldwell

Hattiesburg American - January 10, 2010

Monday will be a red-letter day for Justin McCray.

Bright and early on Monday morning, McCray will meet the bus outside his home in the Glendale community and go to school.

So, why is that a big deal, you ask?

Because McCray, a junior at North Forrest High School, has not attended classes for more than a year, ever since he was seriously injured in a junior varsity football game.

Monday will be his first day back in class since his injury.

"I'm real excited about it," McCray said. "I like being up there at school with all my classmates."

Not only will it be a big day for McCray, but it will be a big day for the school.

"He has gotten so much back, just since we came back from Germany."

"It's going to be a huge day," North Forrest football coach Shannon White said. "It's been a long journey for him, his family and for our school. We're looking forward to his getting on somewhat of a getting-back-to-normal situation."

Since suffering a broken neck in a game at Purvis on Sept. 9, 2008, McCray has made slow, but steady, progress in his bid to regain the use of his legs.

"He has definitely made tremendous progress," said physical therapist Jennifer Stewart, owner of Excelerated Rehab and Fitness. "He has made so many gains in so many areas."

Despite missing more than a year of class time, Justin is on schedule to graduate with his class in 2011, thanks to online course work provided by the school. He already is making plans to attend Southern Miss.

"It's really important for me to know I can still graduate with my class," McCray said. "I've always been a goal-oriented person. I'm thinking about (a major in) marketing. But, I'm also looking at some other avenues."

A trip to Germany in August for a stem-cell procedure appears to have made a significant impact in McCray's recovery.

"It was different, very different," McCray said.[1]"They went up in my hip bone and took the stem cells out, then injected me in my spinal canal. It left me with a bad headache for about a day. But other than that, it wasn't too bad."

The procedure, involves removing bone marrow from the patient, from which the stem cells are processed, then implanting the cells back into the patient.

The clinic claims about a 60 percent success rate in patients with spinal-cord injuries.

McCray still needs a wheelchair to get around, but he's now strong enough to move a non-mechanized chair himself, and has gained the ability to move himself from his wheelchair.

He's regained significant movement and feeling from his waist up, and is starting to regain at least some feeling in his feet. More importantly, he is now able to stand up in leg braces and can walk a few steps with assistance.

"We're still hopeful that he'll get up and be able to walk," said Marche' Maye, Justin's mother. "He has gotten so much back, just since we came back. He's starting to feel things below his waist, and he's gotten some of his personal things back."

Those, "personal things," such as the ability to use the bathroom unassisted, are among the things people take for granted. But for someone who has been paralyzed, regaining that ability can be a major step.

"We can't imagine what that's like," Stewart said. "All of his goals relating to therapy are pointed toward gaining as much independence as possible. The more independent we can make him, the better it is for him."

There is no question that McCray's ordeal has changed his and his family's life forever. Through it all, though, the family - which includes Justin's sister Megan - has borne it together.

"(Megan) was with us in Jackson (when McCray began his recovery) and she went to Germany with us," said Rico Maye, Justin's father. "The school fixed it so she could do her classes online like Justin. I don't think she'd have it any other way.

"We're a close-knit family, and we're always together. I think that's helped Justin in his recovery."

But while having the support of family, friends and the community at large has played a big role in where McCray is today, his coach ultimately points to McCray himself as having the biggest role in his recovery.

"He has a strong faith, and it's a family that believes in prayer," White said. "But, mostly, it's his makeup. He's a fighter. Most of the time, he's positive. And those are things that can't be measured by doctors."


[1] First, The bone marrow is removed under local anesthesia via thin-needle minipuncture to the hip bone. The next day, the stem cells are separated in the lab. The third day, the stem cells are injected into the spinal fluid under local anesthesia between L4 and L5.

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