Confined to wheelchair since 16, teen still determined

By Meghan McSloy
January 25, 2011

High school is typically a time when teens discover who they are what they want from life. For the most people, this is a typical reality.

What if life takes an unexpected turn? What if everything you originally knew was changed in an instant? This is the reality of 18 year old Melissa Nunn, whose life changed forever while on vacation in Hawaii with her family in 2008.

Melissa and her family were at a popular tourist location where visitors jump off a rock into the water.  During one of her jumps, her left foot slipped and she fell into the water, where she broke her neck and began bleeding from the head.

Immediately, her family, along with an orthopedic doctor who happened to be there on vacation as well as two by standing lifeguards, rushed to her aid.

“I remember slipping but I don’t remember being in the water so I think I blacked out sometime in between there. They swam over and were holding me up,” Melissa said.

Thanks to the orthopedic doctor that was on hand, Nunn’s mother, Michelle, got a glimpse of the severity of her daughter’s injury.

“At the scene, the orthopedic doctor said that she broke her c6 so he knew that with those symptoms that she broken her neck,” Michelle said. “When they originally said quadriplegic, I was surprised because her arms were moving around.”

It turned out that Melissa would be a quadriplegic and that she would be confined to a wheelchair.

Nunn, who was 16 at the time of the injury, was taken to a hospital on the island of Kauai, where she had staples put into her head. She was then transferred to a trauma center in Oahu, where she stayed in the intensive care unit for two weeks, the remainder of the family’s vacation.

In order to be flown home, Melissa had to be stable enough to make the long flight back to Philadelphia. Finally, while still on a ventilator, Melissa made the 21-hour journey home with a respitory therapist, two nurses and her mother. She was flown in a helicopter ambulance with multiple layovers.

“I remember parts of the flight like waking up and drinking Gatorade and then I would just be back out,” Melissa said.

After returning home from Hawaii, Melissa was kept at Jefferson University hospital. Her mother remembers, “it was so exciting when we got to take her out into the hallway for the first time.”

Eventually, Melissa was moved to Magee Rehabilitation in center city where she learned how to function on a daily basis as well as seek advice from others who are dealing with similar injuries.  In her fourth month stay at Magee, Melissa battled several medical issues such as UTI Sepsis, a urine infection that poisoned her body.

“She was flapping her arms and looking at us like crazy alien stuff [during the infection],” Michelle said.

Currently a senior at William Tennet High School in Warminster, Pa., Melissa is beginning to become actively involved in sports once again. She participates in wheelchair rugby also known as murderball.

“Giving up sports was probably the hardest thing because I used to play travel softball so not being able to play a sport was upsetting,” Melissa said.

In school, Melissa is able to function independently in her day-to-day schedule. She was even voted “best legs” for her high school superlatives. She welcomes people to ask questions about her injuries.

When she graduates, Melissa plans to attend Bucks County Community College to determine a major and adjust to college life. In addition, she hopes to become a peer mentor at Magee Rehabilitation.

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Meghan McSloy

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