Back on His Feet and in Class
It’s been two years since a family vacation to Maui took a dangerous turn for George Mason University student Nicholas Balenger.
Balenger, then a senior and a baseball standout at Lake Braddock Secondary School, misjudged the depth of the ocean where he was swimming and dove headfirst into a wave, hitting the ocean floor and fracturing his neck. He underwent surgery at a Hawaiian hospital before returning to Virginia for treatment at MedStar National Rehabilitation Hospital in Washington, D.C.
Immediately following the accident, Balenger was left immobile from the chest down. “I don’t think I really fully understood the situation . . . but I kind of took it in stride . . .. This is what I have to deal with now,” Balenger says.
Over several months, Balenger, now 19, graduated from using a wheelchair to using a walker when Suzanne Groah—a Mason affiliate faculty member and Balenger’s MedStar physician—introduced Balenger to the Mason research team in the Department of Rehabilitation Science. The team has helped guide Balenger further down the path of recovery.
Balenger has made great strides since April, when he began working twice a week with Mason PhD students Jared Gollie and Gino Panza under the direction of Andrew Guccione, chair of Mason’s Department of Rehabilitation Science. The graduate students provide the research testing at the Functional Performance Laboratory in the Nguyen Engineering Building and the intervention at the Aquatic and Fitness Center on the Fairfax Campus.
Balenger now uses crutches instead of a walker, and can even walk short distances quite well without aid, Guccione says. He also has gone from living with his parents to living independently on campus, with financial help from his Swim with Mike scholarship, a program that helps physically challenged athletes.