Nick Balenger paralyzed in accident, works to walk again
A local high school baseball star's life change in a split second this summer. Nick Balenger was paralyzed in a swimming accident while on vacation with his family. The Fairfax County teen says he's using the same drive he had on the pitcher's mound to walk again.
Balenger was born to pitch. His Lake Braddock High School team won the Virginia State Championship this year.
In July, his family went to Hawaii, in part, to celebrate.
Balenger's life changed forever that first day on the beach.
"I dove into a wave....and I just misjudged the height of the sand - a sandbar or something - and cracked my neck," he explained.
His mother, Sylvie Balenger, added, "I said, 'Nick are you OK?,' and he said, 'I just can't feel anything in my legs.'"
Nick had fractured two vertebrae in his neck. He was, initially, a quadriplegic.
"I'd say the morning is the worst part, waking up and just wanting to get out of bed and go take a shower. But I just can't do that anymore," Nick said.
He celebrated his 17th birthday in Maui with his parents, Sylvie and Steve, and his brother, Alex, flying home to a warm welcome and months of hard work at the MedStar National Rehabilitation Hospital.
Nick's lost 35 pounds, but doctors are optimistic; his spinal cord was not severed in the accident.
"He has surpassed our expectations," said Dr. Justin Burton, who works at the MedStar National Rehabilitation Hospital. "He is a great example for all of our patients that we see on our unit."
It's been five months and Nick is actually walking. Each small step is another big milestone.
"You don't want to see your kid go through that," Sylvie added. "But it's great to know that he's fighting back, and he's winning!'
There have been a lot of fundraisers and photo-ops since the accident, but dreams of playing college baseball have faded.
Sylvie continued, "I try not to think of what could have been, because I think it's a waste of energy to do that. Nick doesn't think that way, and so, why should I?"
In fact, Nick plans to return to school in January and beat the odds he's playing against.
"Of course I plan to be walking again! That's what I planned since day one! I plan to be running again!," Nick exclaimed.
Doctors say in such injuries, most improvement comes in the first six months to a year. Even though Nick still battles frequent infections and nausea, they say he should be able to walk unassisted , and who knows, maybe much more.
Click here to learn more about Nick's journey.