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From soccer star to mending muscles

By Megan Workman

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Michael McCarty thought he was going to spend his senior year of high school showing off his soccer skills for prospective coaches. Instead, he cowered at home, wearing a neck brace.

A traumatic injury led the South Charleston native down a different road than expected. He recently opened an independent office at South Hills Chiropractic so that he could work for those who need help healing, he said.

McCarty discovered his passion for soccer during his freshman year at Riverside High School. While he enjoyed playing baseball and basketball, soccer became his everyday sport.

He tried a number of positions throughout his freshman year. By sophomore year McCarty officially played as a sweeper (a position in soccer where the player protects the goalie and closes gaps left by other defenders).

"I was really enthusiastic about playing soccer. Even when I wasn't playing for the team, I had a soccer ball at my feet," McCarty said.

His dream of pursuing soccer in college took a hard hit during a spring game his junior year.

Since Riverside High School offered soccer only in the fall, McCarty joined a spring soccer league in Tornado.

During a tournament finale game in Huntington in April 2003, McCarty and his team played an intense game in the rain. As McCarty and an opponent kicked the ball, the two players tripped over each other. Then McCarty dove head first into the opposing goalie's rib cage. McCarty said he doesn't remember falling to the ground but can recall looking at his fingers in the grass.

At first, McCarty thought his nosebleed was the only injury he suffered. But when he tried to lift his head, he felt excruciating pain.

"It was gruesome. I laid flat on the grass and my mom, who is a nurse, came up to me and I told her it was hard to pick my head up," McCarty recalled. "They called an EMS to get me but the ambulance got stuck because it was so muddy. I laid there for about 45 minutes."

Because the ambulance couldn't get on the field, help arrived in a four-wheel-drive pickup truck. McCarty had broken the top vertebra of his neck in two places. Doctors said he had a 99 percent chance of living but because of his physical condition the four stainless steel rods they put in his neck helped keep him alive.

For the next four months, he wore a neck brace and chest strap that prevented him from moving his body from his chest up to his head.

Instead of showering, he took "bird baths" for nearly four months, he said, using a washcloth and soap every day. He avoided stairs as much as he could -- he slept on the recliner in his parent's living room until they moved his bed downstairs for the last two months of recovery.

Because he couldn't take the neck brace off, he had to buy extra-large T-shirts to wear over the chest strap. The neck brace and chest strap became a part of him for four months, he said.

"It took me four years to get where I was and my whole life changed in a millisecond," McCarty said. "I didn't like people seeing me with the brace on. My friends were all out having fun doing stuff and I couldn't turn my head."

Although he had just gotten his license, he couldn't drive. He spent many days at home, he said, since moving around was a challenge.

When he was finally able to take the neck brace and chest strap off in August 2003, he realized that he lost his dream of a soccer career, he said.

"Instead of being a career soccer player, I had to change paths," McCarty said. "[The accident] completely changed my path in life. I was going to play my senior year but I decided to go into the health-care field and help others."

McCarty graduated from Marshall University in 2008 with an exercise physiology degree. He then studied at the Logan College of Chiropractic in St. Louis, Mo., for three-and-a-half years and graduated in December 2011. Now a doctor of chiropractic at South Hills Chiropractic, McCarty works as an independent contractor at Mark E. Hughes' office.

The room with purple pastel walls where he performs muscle treatment on patients has two chiropractic tables and a chart detailing spinal decay.

His wife Amanda, whom he married one week before he graduated in December, benefits from his new career, too. Since Amanda gets chronic headaches, McCarty uses Active Release Techniques to relieve acute tissues in her neck, she said. His wife is looking forward to him building his practice, she said.

"He's very dedicated and really wants to help people," Amanda said.

As for McCarty's soccer skills -- he hasn't lost his desire to play, he said.

"Soccer instilled the competitive nature in me. I want to start playing in a men's league soon," he said.

Reach Megan Workman at megan.workman@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5113.


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