Since her first handstand, freshman Macy Huff has admired the sport of gymnastics.
Huff enrolled in her first tumbling class at a young age for an hour once a week. Her teacher, who also coached cheerleading, recruited Huff to participate in competition cheer at age 7 and continued to do so throughout her freshman year at Ben Davis High School.
Before she reached high school, Huff endured two spinal surgeries. In sixth grade she learned she had scoliosis, a curvature of the spine.
Huff’s doctor informed her nothing would need to be done about it. But a month after visiting the doctor, she had intense pain and went back to the doctor for more x-rays.
The summer before Huff’s eighth grade year in 2014, she had scoliosis surgery.
After some time after the surgery, Huff was in serious pain and revisited the doctor, who said physical therapy would alleviate the pain. But it didn’t. Cortisone shots didn’t help either.
Her body was attacking the rods that had been put in to straighten her spine as though they were a foreign substance, so Huff had to receive another surgery to extract the rods.
“Three months after I had that surgery, I was back in the gym full force going at it,” Huff said. “Like, cheer is my life. ‘I just had surgery three weeks ago, and I’m already back in the gym tumbling stunting in full force.’”
Although she went to practice, Huff was in pain, but she suffered through it.
Then Huff started her high school career at Ben Davis High School.
As Huff practiced cheer routines in her competition gymnasium just two nights before the Ben Davis cheerleading tryouts, a tumbling pass went horribly wrong.
Huff’s coach wanted her to show another individual a stunt that Huff hadn’t done since learning basic cheerleading techniques years before. After some convincing from her coach, Huff agreed and prepared for the pass.
“I go, and I do it and basically I just over-rotated and landed on the top of my head and dislocated a vertebrae in my neck in my cervical spine,” Huff said. “I dislocated my cervical vertebrae 5 and 6, which is pretty high up.”
After the accident, Huff immediately fell motionless into the fetal position. Huff’s coach called for another assistant, and they began touching her lower extremities to see if Huff could feel anything — Huff couldn’t feel anything.
“So, I am laying there and [my coach] comes over and I’m like, ‘Nicole, I’m pretty sure I’m paralyzed,’” Huff said.
Huff’s coach reassured her that she was fine, saying her body had not taken that much of a hit before and was not used to the shock.
But Huff told her coach she couldn’t move or feel anything.
From the time of the fall to the hospital, Huff was wide awake until she was heavily medicated in the emergency room.
When Huff’s mom was able to talk to and see her daughter for the first after the accident, she thought it was just a typical sports injury that could be fixed.
But her daughter was sure it was more serious when she was in the ambulance.
“We are really kind of a joking family and we are making jokes and hanging and chilling in the ambulance and the guy is doing all of my evaluations and blood pressure and he goes ‘Macy, I don’t usually sweat, but you’re making me sweat,’” Huff said. “I already had known it was serious, but once he said that, I really knew it was serious.”
Once she got to the emergency room, they did some scans and determined that there were problems with her cervical spine.
Huff had surgery the day after the incident and started inpatient physical therapy through Riley a week later that continued for six weeks. The physical therapy helped Huff regain some movement in her arms.
“Obviously none of [my arm movements] are nearly where they used to be, but I have use of them and I am very thankful for that,” Huff said.
A few days later, Huff was diagnosed with Klippel-Feil syndrome, which means the cervical spine fuses itself. Huff said that means she “should not have been cheering, and [she] shouldn’t have been tumbling at all.”
When Huff fell, the impact shot her weak vertebrae, which hit her spinal cord, which ultimately left Huff paralyzed.
After being released from Riley, Huff went to the Rehab Hospital of Indiana where she did out-patient physical and occupational therapy three days a week for almost two years, while also managing school.
“I did not have a last period class, I had a study hall so my dad would always come and pick me up and I would go to therapy three days a week,” Huff said.
To deal with some of the depression from the accident, Huff said she became a more upbeat girl and started to advocate for anything related to special education.
Huff said after the accident, “you definitely find out who your real friends are because I lost a lot of friends throughout that.”
After two years, there was no longer a reason for her to continue the therapy the Rehab Hospital of Indiana offered.
Since being released from the Rehab Hospital of Indiana, Huff has been doing therapy at NeuroHope. She is currently on a break due to college.
“Think about your surroundings,” Huff said. “Obviously it’s not every day that you’re with someone in a wheelchair, but if you were with someone in a wheelchair, could they get to where you’re going?”
Huff has thought about doing more advocate work such as public speaking, but she is currently just doing what she can as a 19 year old.
“Keep a positive mindset,” Huff said. “You can overcome anything, and I’m definitely living proof of that.”