published Wednesday, December 8th, 2010

Student returns to school after spinal cord injury

by Kelli Gauthier

After walking the halls for a year, David Anderson is learning to renavigate his way around Signal Mountain Middle-High School — this time in a motorized chair.

Anderson, a sophomore, dived into a shallow pool on Aug. 22, breaking two of his vertebrae and leaving him without the use of his legs and core muscles and with limited mobility in his arms and hands. Until November, he was in therapy at the Shepherd Center, a specialty hospital in Atlanta for patients recovering from spinal cord and brain injuries, but he returned to school Tuesday for a special assembly.

"I was really looking forward to seeing all my friends," the 16-year-old said.

Allyson Wills, a recreational therapist from Shepherd, gave a presentation to the high school student body about neuromuscular injuries, and what, specifically, Anderson can and cannot do.

"He didn't have a brain injury, he had a physical injury, so don't treat him any differently than you did before," she said. "His chair is now his body, so don't just come up and push buttons on it."

The presentation came during an assembly that Principal Tom McCullough organized to honor the memory of Zach Taylor, a Signal Mountain student who died on July 24 in an alcohol-related car accident.

"Today is the time and place to talk about choices and consequences in life, and how the results of those are not always thought through. ... Zach Taylor made a choice to drink and drive and not wear a seat belt ... through his death, I believe we can learn to make better choices," McCullough said, choking up.

Although Anderson didn't address the crowd directly Tuesday morning, he said he plans to in the future.

"I have a bunch of youth groups to talk to. I want to start small and get bigger," he said. "Be careful and make your choices wise. I used to be reckless and crazy. Not anymore."

Anderson, who will continue his therapy at Chattanooga's Siskin Hospital for Physical Rehabilitation three days a week, will start back to classes after the winter break. After his accident, he could only shrug his shoulders, he said, but he lowly has regained some movement in his hands and arms.

He first saw some of his friends at a football game two weeks ago and said some of them didn't know what to say to him. He said he appreciated Wills' information session.

"They can ask me anything. Nothing offends me," he said.

As for the future?

"Oh, I'm going to walk again, no doubt in my mind."

about Kelli Gauthier...

Kelli Gauthier covers K-12 education in Hamilton County for the Times Free Press. She started at the paper as an intern in 2006, crisscrossing the region writing feature stories from Pikeville, Tenn., to Lafayette, Ga. She also covered crime and courts before taking over the education beat in 2007. A native of Frederick, Md., Kelli came south to attend Southern Adventist University in Collegedale, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in print journalism. Before newspapers, ...

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