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.