Third in a series
The day that forever changed Chris Corsi’s life began in ordinary fashion last June for the Marvin Ridge High School student.
Hanging out with his buddies at Cracker Barrel. Ice skating at a nearby rink then back to a friend’s house. His friend jumped in the pool. Then Corsi dove in head first, not realizing how shallow that end of the pool was.
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It was 3 feet deep.
“I felt my neck pop and I was floating,” Corsi said.
He had burst one vertebrae and damaged two others. Corsi underwent emergency surgery and spent nine days in intensive care followed by 58 days of rehabilitation at Levine Children’s Hospital at Carolinas Medical Center.
Corsi remains paralyzed from the chest down and said he is considered a “high-functioning quadriplegic.” He returned to Marvin Ridge for his senior year, and after graduating with the rest of his class Friday, he will attend UNC Chapel Hill in the fall.
Along the way, he continued to perform with the high school’s improv group, went to the prom and worked as a radio DJ for a day as part of a hospital fundraiser.
His journey, he said, is just beginning.
‘It got better’
About a month after the accident, Marvin Ridge counselor Ashley Lawson and the school nurse went to visit Corsi at Levine. Lawson said Corsi has always been a friendly, smart student who did well in the multiple AP classes he took.
Still, Lawson didn’t know what to expect at the hospital. But Corsi soon put them at ease.
He was welcoming and open and asked about their summer, Lawson said, making them feel that it wasn’t strange talking to him in the children’s hospital.
By that time, Corsi said, he had already experienced a range of emotions over his accident, including confusion, anger and finally determination to work as hard as possible at his rehabilitation.
After a summer of rehab, Corsi felt nervous about returning to school. He worried about how people would react to him, or whether he would have to retell the same story about the accident “30 times a day.”
Lawson also knew it would be challenging for Corsi when he returned.
He received strong support from his family, as well as from fellow members of Elevation Church. At Levine, he was surrounded by people who knew his circumstances and understood what he was going through.
That wouldn’t be the case with everyone at Marvin Ridge. Corsi would also be only the second student in a wheelchair at the school, which opened in 2007, Lawson said.
Corsi relied a lot on his core group of friends at first.
“They would push me around in the hall, and not in a good way,” Corsi said, smiling. “And once (other) people got comfortable around me, it was fine. … It got better.”
He also continued with the school’s improv comedy club, Check!
And in May, he worked as DJ for a day on Kiss 95.1FM in a fundraiser for Levine. Corsi got to choose the last song: Passion Pit’s “Take A Walk.”
Plans for the future
Like other incoming college freshmen, Corsi said he is excited about the people he will meet and all the new experiences ahead of him at UNC.
He plans to study biology and ultimately find a way to help others with spinal injuries.
“He’s going to do great at Chapel Hill,” Lawson said. “He’ll find his group of people and he’ll inspire others. That’s what he wants to do.”
His positive attitude already has inspired Lawson. When she thinks about what Corsi has gone through, and how he continues to handle it, it gives her the perspective she needs.
Before college starts, Corsi will spend part of the summer mentoring patients at Levine, much like the person he spent time with when he was there.
Corsi plans to talk about “living in the real world and staying positive.” He’ll talk about specifics skills with using the wheelchair, and maybe even how to do wheelies.
“I honestly shouldn’t be here. I should’ve split my head and died in that pool,” Corsi said. “You are never promised that you are not going to get hurt. But there’s enough grace out there to sustain you through any type of situation.
“The best is yet to come.”