KNOWN IN REAL LIFE AS:
GIFT OF GAB
PREMATURE AND CEREBRAL PALSY
Meet Super Sparky (Cory Michalec) at the Akron Marathon on September 28.
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Meet Super Sparky
Cory Michalec, Age 15, from Tallmadge, OH
Why Cory is an #ACHero: Born at 26 weeks and diagnosed with cerebral palsy, Cory has had challenges since day one but has always prevailed thanks to his strong will and support from his care team. Now in high school, he continues to set goals for himself and works hard every day to find new and better ways to accomplish them.
Sidekicks: His therapist at Akron Children’s, Kate Patton, his teacher, Mr. Linder, his teammates, his mom and dad, brothers and twin sister.
When he’s not busy overcoming obstacles: Cory is a huge sports fan. He knows college and professional players’ facts and stats for a variety of sports – hockey, football, baseball and basketball. He also enjoys playing on the Tallmadge Challenger baseball team, the Tallmadge wheelchair basketball team and is ball boy for the Tallmadge varsity football team.
Did you know fact: Cory likes to name his wheelchairs. His power chair’s name is Bryce and his manual chair is Tom.
Cory’s Story: Through strength, perseverance and good dose of charisma, Cory Michalec made a name for himself in the NICU that has stuck with him through therapy, school and on the sports field. Cory is not a quitter.
“My pregnancy was going smoothly until my 24-week ultrasound,” said Tiffany, Cory’s mom. “I was in preterm labor… about 2 weeks later the twins were born and immediately transported to Akron Children’s NICU.”
Cory weighed 2 pounds 2 ounces and was 13.5 inches long. Outwardly, he looked stronger than his twin sister, but testing came back that Cory had a brain bleed. On a scale of 1 to 4, with 4 being the worst, he was a 4.
“I kept thinking this really can’t be happening to him,” said Tiffany. “The doctors couldn’t predict how he’d do from one day to the next. Everything was just wait and see.”
Doctors diagnosed Cory with hydrocephalus, a brain condition that happens when cerebrospinal fluid can’t drain from the brain. The hope was Cory’s body could work the extra blood out of his system without medical intervention but, after a few setbacks, surgeons placed a shunt in Cory’s skull to help drain the fluid.
Cory graduated from the NICU on June 5, 2 days before his mom’s birthday.
“What a gift,” said Tiffany. “It was wonderful having our babies home, but we quickly realized we needed to get used to the 16 minute drive to the hospital because we were there – a lot.”
Cory had follow-up appointments at the NICU and ophthalmology. Soon after, he was diagnosed with cerebral palsy and began meeting with a team of specialists in physiatry, neurology, orthopedics, psychology and physical and occupational therapy.
Cory also had a hard time eating the first 2 years of life because of a terrible gag reflex. He worked with the speech and feeding clinic at the hospital and kept trying new foods at home, but nothing seemed to work.
“We were thinking he was going to need a g-tube,” remembers Tiffany. “But then, a switch flipped…he ate a Cheerio and it stayed down! It was amazing!”
At 3, Cory attended an integrated preschool where he began to blossom as a learner and a friend. He socialized with kids – with and without disabilities – and gained independence.
Cory kept up with his therapy, but as he got older, he wasn’t enjoying it as much.
“Cory saw his dad and brothers play sports or watch sports on TV all the time, so I thought why not use sports items at therapy,” said Tiffany. “Cory immediately took to it and took to sports in general.”
At 4, Cory started playing Challenger baseball. Although he was getting stronger, Cory struggled to keep up with his peers using his walker. By second grade, Cory moved to a wheelchair full-time, which offered him more mobility and energy to do the things he enjoyed.
“Allowing him to just use his wheelchair was a tough decision for us, but a great decision for Cory,” added Tiffany.
Today, Cory excels socially and physically. He plays Challenger baseball, wheelchair basketball and assists teammates on the Tallmadge varsity football team. While Cory’s cerebral palsy is physically demanding, Cory’s positive, outgoing personality is equally relentless.
“I think it’s important for families with complex care babies to know their child is going to grow up and have a future,” said Tiffany. “There are so many uncertainties at every step of the way, you begin to think life will always be that way. But Cory and Katie are a great example of how things do slow down, you will find a balance and you can live your best life.”