WAYNESBURG – A little more than two years after breaking her neck in a freak accident at a dance school, an accident that left her paralyzed and on a ventilator for months, Meg Throckmorton will walk across the auditorium stage at Waynesburg Central High School’s graduation Friday and receive her high school diploma.
But had it not been for a series of serendipitous events that touched Meg’s life, she most likely would not have made it to this commencement, this time when something new “begins” six days from now.
It was an early spring day, April 13, 2012, and the 16-year-old daughter of John and Dolly Throckmorton of Franklin Township was practicing for a dance recital at her mother’s studio, In Motion Dance + Fitness in Waynesburg.
“It was Friday and I was preparing for a dance competition the next day,” Meg said, while sitting in her kitchen recently, reflecting on her remarkable and courageous journey to recovery. “I was doing a round-off back tuck. You run, do a little skip and then a back tuck. I just didn’t make it over,” she said. “I had done it about 10 times that day and had no problems. I have no idea what happened.”
What happened was she landed on her head and fractured her C2 vertebrae. She couldn’t move her legs or arms and couldn’t breathe.
At the time of the accident, her friend, Abby Walters, and fortuitously, Abby’s mother, Dana, a nurse at Ruby Memorial Hospital in Morgantown, W.Va., were with Meg. Dana administered CPR and Meg was then flown by medical helicopter to Ruby.
Surgeons stabilized her neck by inserting a pin and attaching a halo to her head. She also had a tracheotomy and a feeding tube installed. “I don’t remember the first couple of days in the hospital, but I remember just about everything else,” she said, smiling as if she were recounting her treatment for a broken foot.
Doctors at Ruby, particularly Dr. Jennifer Knight, decided Meg would be a good candidate for a diaphragmatic pacemaker, or pacer, a device that reconnects, or recreates, stimulation to the diaphragm that allows a person to breathe.
But, there was a problem. The Food and Drug Administration approved the use of these pacers for those 18 years and older. Meg was just 16.
“The hospital did all the work to get approval from the FDA,” said Meg’s father, John Throckmorton. “The procedure at Ruby was a breakthrough for someone her age, and they made us aware it was experimental. We eventually realized how much they (the hospital) had to go through. It was a pretty big deal.”
Once the pacer was installed, Meg’s body began to respond, although she was on a ventilator. “(The pacer) woke up my body in a different way,” she said. “Although I couldn’t move my arms or legs, I wanted people to move them for me because I was so restless.”
After 12 days at Ruby, Meg was transferred to the Shepherd Center in Atlanta, Ga., which specializes in treatment of spinal cord and brain injuries.
“When I left for Atlanta, I still had no movement at all,” Meg said. And although, she still could not breathe on her own, she remained remarkably optimistic. Her family, including her two older sisters, Anne and Claire, were with her the whole time she was in Atlanta. “I am not one to give up. I realized I was very young and that was in my favor and technology is really crazy these days,” she said.
Meg’s mother, Dolly, said she and her husband did everything to share Meg’s optimism. “Initially, you don’t have a choice,” she said. “We had to be positive for her, but when we would leave her room, that’s when you break down and try to deal with it.”
Dolly said she kept telling herself things were going to get better at some point. To Meg, she said, “Whatever the outcome, it will be better than where you are now.”
For the three months Meg was at Shepherd, she was stretched, weaned from her ventilator and eventually was standing and walking on her own. She was discharged Aug. 8, 2012, and returned home the next day.
Meg was home for two weeks before it was time to start her junior year of high school. “I went for about nine weeks but it was hard to go to school every day, so I finished my junior year as a cyberschool student,” she said.
Then, last fall she returned to her high school as a senior. “My classmates were really excited to see me, but after a week or so, they started treating me like normal,” Meg said. And this spring, Meg was selected as the school’s prom queen.
Meg was asked whether she ever gets tired of recounting the events of the last two years.
“Sometimes I want to put it behind me, but it is a part of my life now,” she said. “It doesn’t upset me. I am pretty happy the way things have turned out,” she said, still smiling after all she has been through.
But what about her love of dancing? “At first, I didn’t want to do it, but the last couple of months, I have gone once a week, taking some ballet, just some basic stuff,” she said. “If anything, it’s good therapy. Ballet helps me with my balance.”
Although she walks a little slower than she used to, she is working toward building up her endurance. “I go to therapy twice a week, and I do some physical therapy on my own at home,” she said.
Meg plans to attend Waynesburg University in the fall, but is undecided on a major. “I wanted to stay close to home for at least the first year of college. I am still a little nervous.”
And what about graduating next Friday? “It’s not a big deal,” she said.
Oh yes, Meg, it is.