AMHERST, N.Y. – With the neck brace partially hidden by the collar of his bright blue graduation gown, Buffalo wrestler Dan Bishop wondered why every college graduate across the country shouldn’t deserve this type of attention.
That’s when Bishop was reminded not everyone has endured a life-threatening trauma that’s turned into a life-altering experience over the past two months. The senior went from being paralyzed from the neck down, after suffering a severe spinal cord injury during a wrestling meet, to being able to walk on his own.
“Well, I wouldn’t change anything, really,” Bishop said Sunday. “It’s a blessing, honestly. It’s a blessing in disguise. It’s a new path in my life and a better one.”
The sociology major took several memorable steps down that path by crossing the red carpet at the school’s commencement ceremony without the aid of a wheelchair or walker. That was exactly what Bishop had vowed to do shortly upon waking up in a hospital bed after having emergency surgery to repair a fracture between two vertebrae and damage to a major artery.
“Oh yeah, it was great,” Bishop said after receiving his graduation pin and shaking hands with University at Buffalo president John Simpson. “It’s hard to put into words. I’m so emotional.”
The only thing missing were the tears he expected to flow. But Bishop joked that he was more worried about having to go to the restroom after sitting through the two-plus hour ceremony.
Bishop’s speedy recovery is regarded as remarkable since he landed headfirst on the mat while competing in a 125-pound semifinal match at the Mid-American Conference championships at Central Michigan University on March 6. Attended to immediately by team trainers and emergency officials, Bishop lost feeling in all of his extremities.
Following surgery, during which the two vertebrae were fused together and a metal plate and permanent screws were inserted to support the wrestler’s spine, Bishop’s parents were told that their son would likely get 95 percent of his motion back.
No one ever predicted Bishop would be on his feet so quickly.
“We didn’t know if I’d be walking at all within a year,” Bishop said, recalling what he was told when he first began therapy at a rehabilitation center in Schenectady, N.Y., near his home in Whitehall.
“I said, ‘I’m going to do it, you watch,’ ” Bishop said of walking at graduation. “I got rid of the walker and here we are.”