US teen paralysed after touchdown on head and neck whereas doing flips on a trampoline

As Pam Surano left mass one day last summer, her phone started ringing.

She glanced down and saw her daughter, Mary Maloney, 13, was calling.

But she let it go to voicemail as she reflected on the service and gazed at the church.

Until Mary called again. And again. Surano picked up and immediately knew something was wrong.

“Mary’s voice was different,” Surano, 51, a reporter at KDKA in Pittsburgh, told TODAY.

“She said she had an accident and ‘I can’t move my legs.’”

Mary was an athletic teenager until she became paralysed. Credit: NBC/ Pam Surano

On August 30, 2020, Mary was jumping on a trampoline, doing flips.

“She’s very acrobatic, extremely athletic. She does every sport imaginable,” Surano said.

Then she landed oddly on her head and neck.

It felt like she tweaked something so she went into the house and sat down to relax.

But she still felt lingering pain so she took a warm bath, thinking the water might soothe her muscles. It didn’t.

Mary is undergoing rehabilitation to regain control of her legs. Mary is undergoing rehabilitation to regain control of her legs. Credit: NBC/ Pam Surano

“She had a harder time getting out of the bath,” Surano explained. “It increasingly felt worse.”

After laying on the bed for a few minutes, Mary realised she couldn’t move and called for her dad. He placed her in the car and drove her to the hospital where Surano met them.

“They put her in a wheelchair. She threw up all over herself and fell forward like she lost all ability to sit up,” she said.

“From then, it was just a series of nightmares.”

Diagnosis and therapy

Doctors performed a CT scan and an MRI to determine what had happened. At first, they saw nothing.

“They were completely perplexed because it showed everything perfect and normal from the brain to the spinal cord,” Surano said.

“There was not a contusion, not a blood bleed, not a fracture, nothing was wrong.”

They treated her with blood pressure medicine and steroids and two days later she underwent the scans again.

“That’s when it showed the spinal stroke… (In) the area that controls the legs and the feet,” Surano said.

She spent six days in the intensive care unit of UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh and then went to in-patient rehabilitation.

Mary was paralysed from her mid-chest down and since then the now 14-year-old has been involved in several other rehabilitation programs.

Mary has so far learned how to crawl. Mary has so far learned how to crawl. Credit: NBC/ Pam Surano

“You have to crawl before you walk and that’s what she’s doing now. Crawling is hard and she can do it,” Surano said.

“It is a huge indicator of her recovery. Because she was paralysed from the middle of her chest to her toes. She has what they consider top down recovery happening. So her abdominal flexors are activating, which is great because they were formerly paralysed.”

Mary’s strong faith in God and an upbeat mindset has helped her.

“They also say that her positive attitude, incredible spirit, her hard work is powerful and all of that is going to lend itself to the healing process,” Surano said. “We’ve been overwhelmed with prayers that have turned the tide for us.”

Surano has become an unexpected advocate for novel methods of neurological rehabilitation and hopes to bring a new facility to Pittsburgh.

“Everyone knows somebody in a wheelchair whether they have a spinal cord injury or not. Most cities are lacking a neuro recovery center,” Surano said. “It’s as though we’re leaving a whole segment of the population behind.”

‘Never advocate anyone use the trampoline’

While Mary wants people to know how grateful she feels for the support she’s received, her mum says that she hopes people understand that trampolines can be dangerous.

“I don’t want to finger point or blame anybody, certainly not Mary or anybody else, but I would never advocate anyone use the trampoline,” she said.

“I almost wonder, and I’m certainly not a medical expert, if the trajectory of the body, it’s just not meant to do that.”

Broken bones, concussions, head and neck injuries and sprains can commonly happen when children use trampolines.

According to the US Consumer Product Safety Commission, in 2016 there were approximately 120,000 hospital emergency room-treated injuries associated with trampolines.

Mary and her puppy. Mary and her puppy. Credit: NBC/ Pam Surano

“Injuries can occur from trampolines, (children) trying stunts on them, landing the wrong way, falling off the trampoline,” Meaghan Crawley, an injury prevention specialist at Spectrum Health in Grand Rapids, Michigan, who is not involved with Mary’s care, told TODAY.

She recommends that parents follow all instructions that come with trampolines and only allow one child on it at a time to increase their safety.

“If you do have a trampoline at your home you need to make sure if you have a kid on it that there’s adult supervision,” she said.

“Make sure that they’re not doing any sort of somersaults or flips or anything that increases the likelihood of them coming down wrong on their head or neck.”

Continuing recovery

Mary has good days and hard days. Sometimes, she asks her mum to take a break and she plays with her four-month-old puppy or has sleepovers or shopping trips with friends.

“The puppy can jump into Mary’s wheelchair. He even runs alongside of her,” she said. “He learned to pull the leash so when she’s in the wheelchair, he can pull her.”

Surano expects Mary to thrive because of the support she’s received.

“Mary said, ‘I want to walk on the beach,’” Surano said. “We’ve asked everybody to please pray and keep that vision in their heart because we truly believe that God works by us agreeing with one another and us envisioning what we want.”

“I really just feel that Mary is going to have a miracle,” Surano said. “All this love that we have received in our hearts, it’s spilling out. We just cannot wait to give it all back.”

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