Nico Fiorello — once a two-sport athlete at Seaford High School — awkwardly grips his lacrosse stick. His right wrist is limp and he has trouble heaving the instrument forward to send the small ball flying.
But the 18-year-old has a big grin on his face.
A little over a year ago, he couldn’t even sit up in his hospital bed at Nassau University Medical Center in East Meadow. His doctors weren’t sure he’d ever be able to walk again.
Last May, Fiorello dove into a sandbar at Jones Beach and broke a bone in his neck that put him in danger of being paralyzed for life.
He was rushed to NUMC and underwent two operations — one to relieve pressure on the spinal cord, the other to stabilize the neck.
After 11 days in NUMC’s pediatric intensive care unit, Fiorello went to the Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation in Saddle Brook, New Jersey. There, he underwent physical therapy seven days a week, and after 3 1⁄2 months was able to walk with a walker.
“It’s frustrating when you’re staring at your arm and willing it to lift up and it won’t. But for me it was a matter of not losing hope and working with the trainers and just to continue to force myself until I got the results I wanted,” Fiorello said while teasing his dog, Murphy, a stubby Pekingese with one eye, who struggled to jump onto his lap.
Fiorello is now preparing to attend his senior prom on June 22 with a friend from another high school, and his graduation on June 26. He can walk unassisted, although he moves slowly and with a slight limp.
Greg Reardon, a physical therapist at Northwell Health Sports Therapy and Rehabilitation Services in Manhasset, works with Fiorello to strengthen his core muscles and to restore a full range of motion to his right arm, which he can only lift to about shoulder height.
He says Fiorello has made “unbelievable” progress.
The senior, who sits on the Seaford lacrosse bench as a de facto assistant coach, can now pass and catch with a lacrosse stick. But he’s hoping to do much more — like juggle and play intramural sports at Hofstra University, where he will begin a degree in kinesiology in the fall.
“The odds weren’t in my favor, but odds are just numbers. The most important thing I learned through this was the power of not ever giving up,” Fiorello said — willing his little Pekingese to jump a little higher.