Rutgers Wrestler Faced Paralysis

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"So I’m Jordan Pagano. I’m from South Brunswick, New Jersey. I met Dr. Mark because I had a kind of freak accident during wrestling practice at Rutgers. It was a routine everyday kind of drill: front heads into a cradle, and I was scooting on my butt. I posted my hands out to keep schooling and just felt two jolts of electricity or whatever it was kind of run down my neck down in my legs, and my body just went stiff like a board. Uh, couldn’t feel anything. I had no feeling for about, I want to say, like 10 minutes down from my neck down, and then after that 10 minutes, the left side started coming back, but the right side was gone for about like 45 minutes to an hour. So it was pretty scary stuff.

I got rushed to Robert Wood Johnson Hospital, and they did a great job while I was there. I got a CAT scan and got an MRI, and showed that my C5 and C6 had pretty much ruptured and burst into one, fragmented into the pieces, and then kind of burst into my spinal cord right there. And they wanted to do surgery that night. And, you know, I was an athlete, so I’ve had surgery, some elbow surgeries, and you know, always want to look for the best doctor. Don’t just want anybody kind of cutting you open. And, you know, this was my spine and my neck, so I wanted someone that I trusted. I was in contact with all the Rutgers coaches at the time, and, you know, they connected me with Dr. Mark. And, um, you know, he got me in. I left the hospital Tuesday morning. He got me in Tuesday afternoon, got me for surgery Thursday, so it was a really quick process. Um, I’m super grateful for that.

When I first met Dr. Mark, I instantly felt a connection right. Um, you know, I’ve been a wrestler since I was about four and 26, so 22 years in the sport, and, you know, Dr. Mark is uh very, very involved with wrestling. That connection right there, aside from him being one of the best doctors in the country and probably in the world...

I felt so comfortable just talking to him, and he did such a good job of explaining what actually happened to me. He drew it on this little Post-It note and showed me what happened and how he planned on fixing it. I was just blown away with how calm his presence made me feel because, you know, to me, I was like at any moment, I could go back to being paralyzed. Once we got here, he sat me down, and we talked. You know, I was like, ‘This guy’s gonna fix everything, and you know, I’m gonna get back to where I was.’

So I’m three months post-operation. I feel really, really good. I was, I think, six weeks off. I asked him, ‘What can I do?’ And he’s like, ‘Nothing. You have to rest.’ And I was like, ‘I gotta do something. I gotta do something.’ And he was like, ‘You can find a stationary bike, do that. You can sit in the sauna.’ And then at about, I think, like 10 weeks, he was like, ‘You could do some bodyweight lunges, bodyweight squats.’ So I’ve just been trying to do whatever I can, but I feel so great. Um, I feel like I never had a neck injury. Everything feels really good.

Dr. Mark thinks that I’ll be good to get back on the mat and wrestle, and coach maybe even compete in September. Now that’s starting that process of kind of just getting back. So a competition for me could be very far away, but getting back on the mat, wrestling with those guys at Rutgers, is what means the most to me. And that’s my goal, really, to get back to what I was doing before I had neck surgery and hopefully to get back better than I was because, you know, I feel like I’m going to be better than I was before surgery.

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