Patient StoriesJanuary 26 2023

Mackenzie Johnson Is Redefining Normal

Mackenzie Johnson

After a spinal cord injury left 19-year old Mackenzie Johnson a paraplegic, instead of asking why, he and his family asked, “What’s next?”

In 2016, 19-year old Mackenzie Johnson fell 35 feet from a cabin balcony. He was transported by UT LIFESTAR to The University of Tennessee Medical Center’s Level I Trauma Center. There, physicians treated him for an incomplete T-12 spinal cord injury. The T-12 vertebra is located at the base of the rib cage, and injuring it left him permanently paralyzed from the waist down.

“Once I realized the gravity of what had happened,” Mackenzie said, “I was like, how am I going to do anything? How am I going to function?”

The medical center staff helped the family see that life wasn’t over. “They told him, you can still do anything you’d planned before, just maybe on a different path,’” said his mom, Jeannée Johnson. “So, we never asked why. It was just, ‘What’s next?’”

When the medical center released him, Mackenzie traveled to the Shepherd Center in Atlanta, where he spent three months rehabilitating. While there, he was exposed to the world of adaptive activities, like swimming, wheelchair basketball and cycling.

“It was good therapy,” said Mackenzie. “I found out that I could still enjoy things I used to do, even if some parts were different or adaptive.”

A Life-Changing Basketball Camp

One of the sports he tried while in rehab — wheelchair basketball — clicked. “I loved the camaraderie and the physicality,” said Mackenzie, who played football in high school.

He decided to make basketball his primary sport, and to play for local Division III team when he went to college that fall. To hone his skills, he went to a summer basketball camp at Auburn University in Auburn, Alabama.

That summer camp changed the course of his college career.

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