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Injured 15-Year-Old Gets Lift From Scioscia

March 16, 2003|Ben Bolch | Times Staff Writer

Mike Scioscia is inspiring miracles again, and the season hasn't even started.

Less than two months after the manager of the World Series champion Angels told a paralyzed basketball player from Encino Crespi High that he would ascend the mound at Edison Field and throw out a first pitch, the 15-year-old is walking with the assistance of specially designed crutches.

Mike McNamara may be making his major league debut sooner than anyone expected.

"This has been the best of what anyone could have hoped for," McNamara's father, Robert, said. "No one knew he'd walk again."

Doctors told Robert McNamara that his son, a sophomore guard on junior varsity, was a paraplegic, after an MRI exam taken Jan. 13 revealed a six-inch blood clot from a basketball injury bleeding into his spinal column.

Mike McNamara was rushed into surgery, where doctors removed the clot and sealed the incision with 22 staples.

The boy had no movement in his legs and his prognosis remained bleak two weeks later when Scioscia visited him at Northridge Hospital after being contacted by Crespi varsity boys' basketball Coach Dick Dornan. The coach had spotted Scioscia sitting in the stands watching his son Matthew play in a tournament at Crespi.

He wasn't a big baseball fan, but Mike McNamara's face "lit up like a Roman candle" when he saw Scioscia walk into the room, his father said. Scioscia chatted with McNamara for about an hour, telling him that he was going to walk out of the hospital and show what a true champion was all about.

The manager gave McNamara a signed World Series baseball, a signed bat and two caps. Scioscia also visited with McNamara's roommate, Sean Kuykendahl, who had fallen 50 feet off scaffolding at the Hollywood Bowl.

"It was just such a beautiful gesture," Robert McNamara said. "Mike seized upon every word that 'Skip' said to him."

Said Scioscia: "Mike was very upbeat and very motivated for a kid that really, within the flick of a switch, had his life turned upside down."

A few weeks after Scioscia's visit, McNamara wiggled his left foot for the first time. The movement progressed to his calf and then his thigh. The boy started taking baby steps, first with the assistance of parallel bars and then a walker. He recently started walking on crutches and has begun to regain feeling in his right big toe.

Earlier this month, Dornan presented McNamara with a special courage award at the team banquet. The boy made it to the podium under his own power, eliciting tears of joy from many in attendance.

McNamara told Dornan that he would play basketball again, and considering what the boy has accomplished, the coach doesn't doubt him.

"To me it's only a matter of time," Dornan said. "If he plays one minute or one season, I'll be thrilled to death. The most important thing is he walks again."

McNamara initially suffered what he thought was a minor injury when he landed on his back during a game before Christmas. The injury was diagnosed as severe muscle spasms.

McNamara immediately returned to the court, playing in the Celts' next three games, but the pain persisted. On Jan. 13, he rolled around on the floor of Dornan's office, writhing in pain.

McNamara's father picked him up and took him home, where he collapsed. It was only after paramedics rushed McNamara to St. John's Hospital in Santa Monica that his freak injury was correctly diagnosed.

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