An Orange County man who was severely injured last Christmas while undertaking a routine family chore was given only a 3% chance of walking again.

But he has defied the odds, and by the looks of it, you would never guess Michael Dennedy was recovering from an emergency six-hour spinal surgery one year ago.

What You Need To Know

  • On Christmas Day 2022, Michael Dennedy lost his balance while adjusting gutters on his family's roof

  • Dennedy shattered vertebra on the frozen ground below, causing paralysis from the waist down

  • He underwent surgery in Westchester Medical Center

  • He is now biking, lifting weights and hiking

“I think it was just grit and determination, and a lot of people were supporting me,” Dennedy said.

On Christmas in 2022, Dennedy was adjusting the gutter system on the roof of his family’s home when he lost his balance and jumped, hoping to break his fall and mitigate any risk.

“Truthfully, as I was a child in my teens and even younger, my next-door neighbor and I used to go on the roof in the summertime,” Dennedy said. “We used to jump off the roof and land on our feet because it's about like 15 feet or so. So, I was, I think just saying, ‘OK, quickly pivot and jump. I did this before.’”

Little did Dennedy know, the ground was frozen solid. When he landed, his L-2 vertebra “exploded” into fragments, causing paralysis from the waist down.

“Upon impact, it just sent a kind of a shock and a tingle up my spine, as if your hair's standing on end. If you ever, like, sneeze or get scared, or get the chills really quickly,” Dennedy said. “Then I just lost all ability to stand, so I just toppled over.”

Dennedy was flown to Westchester Medical Center, where he underwent surgery. Attending neurosurgeon Dr. John Wainwright and his team were on call that Christmas Day, and quickly prepared for Dennedy’s arrival.

Wainwright said Dennedy was cleared to the operating room within minutes, and the doctor performed a spinal surgery.

“Honestly, it didn't feel any different than our typical spine trauma cases. But I always tell all my patients that, you know, every patient is different. We never know what the true extent of the injuries until we start seeing how you're going to start recovering, and that can take up to a year. But in Michael’s case, it only took a few months,” Wainwright said.

In those few months, Dennedy was not only able to walk again, but also bike, lift weights and hike. This was a recovery Wainwright has never seen from a person with the severity of Dennedy‘s injuries.

“A lot of the times, when I see these patients in the office, it's a lot of pep talking, and telling them to stick with the rehab and just try to get through the next few months because they may be making some recovery. Michael was the opposite. I was constantly having to talk him down and try to tell him to do less,” Wainwright said.

This holiday season, Dennedy is thankful there weren’t any helicopter trips or emergency surgeries.

“It’s so easy to give up if you hear that, 'You're never going to walk again.' It does take work. It does take a good mindset, a good support system. But I don't think anybody should throw in the towel. They should just keep pushing and try to accomplish whatever it is that they want to accomplish,” Dennedy said.

While he said he won’t ever be able to ski to the extent he did before the accident, jump out of an airplane, or do any squats or deadlifts that put pressure on his lower vertebrae, he does want to work on becoming as flexible as he can, even with screws and rods in his back.