WEST ISLIP, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — A neck brace didn’t stop 14-year-old Allie Ponzio from sharing lots of warm hugs with her fellow teammates Thursday.
In January, the freshman basketball star at St. John the Baptist fractured her neck chasing a loose ball during a game. On Thursday, she reunited with her teammates.
“As I was going to save the basketball, I kept going and I hit my head against the wall,” Allie described to CBS2’s Steve Overmyer.
She was rushed to the hospital, where doctors inserted pins and fused two vertebrae in her badly damaged neck.
But within weeks of starting what would be a long rehab, Allie smiled from her hospital bed, clutching a small basketball. She wants to play again.
“It’s heartbreaking,” said her mother, Anne Marie Ponzio. “As my daughter says, she’d rather be known for being the greatest basketball player, not necessarily for breaking her neck.”
Still shaken, Allie’s mom says her brave daughter may need more surgeries. But on Thursday, she took her first steps by practicing free throws.
Allie still has problems with balance and range of motion. Yet her teammates say they’re not surprised by her determined efforts to get back on the court.
“It was really, really scary when it first happened, because when she didn’t get up, all of us were terrified,” said Mallory Dunphy. “But it’s great to see her back and up again.”
To help pay for her rising medical bills, the community has raised more than $10,000, and there is another big fundraiser planned for inside the gym Sunday.
“We all came up with an idea of a three-on-three tournament, and we called it the ‘Three-On-Three for Allie P.,” said Lorraine Bouklas, girls athletic director.
Meanwhile, Allie says her doctor is optimistic.
“He said since I’m young and athletic, I will be back on the court next year,” she said.
A GoFundMe page has been set up to donate to Allie’s family.