THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING

Two wiggling toes, whole lot of hope

Major milestone for Norwood teen paralyzed in game

Norwood High School hockey player Matt Brown, shown during a visit he made to the school in May after returning home from months of rehab in Atlanta, broke two cervical vertebrae during a game in January. Norwood High School hockey player Matt Brown, shown during a visit he made to the school in May after returning home from months of rehab in Atlanta, broke two cervical vertebrae during a game in January. (Jonathan Wiggs/ Globe Staff/ File)
By L. Finch
Globe Correspondent / September 8, 2010

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It was only a slight movement — the delicate wiggle of two toes on his right foot. But for Matt Brown, a Norwood High School hockey player who was paralyzed during a game early this year, it was a huge milestone.

The 16-year-old awoke late last Wednesday night with a hot sensation in his legs, said his father, Michael. Matt woke his father, who encouraged him to try to move a part of his body, he said.

After a few moments, the second and third toes on Matt’s right foot slowly moved.

“We just stood there watching him move his toes a few times,’’ his father said yesterday. “We hope it’s the start of the body awakening. It’s just amazing to see.’’

Matt broke his third and fourth cervical vertebrae on Jan. 23 during a game against Weymouth High School at Hingham’s Pilgrim Arena.

After undergoing surgery at Children’s Hospital Boston and months of therapy at the Shepherd Center, an Atlanta facility that specializes in treating patients with spinal-cord injuries, Matt returned to his Norwood home in early May.

Aside from very limited movement in his left arm, Matt is paralyzed from the neck down. Movement in an extremity farthest from his brain suggests some of the nerve damage may be mending, his father said.

The family announced the news about Matt’s wiggling toes Friday on a website and Facebook page dedicated to his recovery.

The progress came just in time for the start of his junior year at Norwood High School, where Matt returned yesterday, his father said.

In the meantime, Matt never tires of tapping his toes, his father said. The hot sensation in his son’s legs comes and goes, a sign of good things to come, he said.

“It’s just so encouraging,’’ his father said. The progress “might be slow, but it’s the first step in many.’’

L.Finch can be reached at lfinch@globe.com.