Bruce Mansy was always dancing — in stores, at home and even once at a hair salon. In January 2016, the 7-year-old stunned his classmates with his performance of “The Nae Nae” and won a school-wide dance contest.
“He was on point. He had the moves,” his dad Samuel Mansy, 33, of Fresno, California, told TODAY. “He is really into it. It made me want to dance.”
But a car accident in September 2016 left Bruce paralyzed from the waist down and made it seem like he would never dance again.
Yet, paralysis didn't slow Bruce for long. After a month of intense therapy, today, Bruce is happily dancing again.
“The accident didn’t really stop me. I get pumped up first, then I do ‘The Whip,’” he told TODAY.
While dancing makes him happy, it also has become part of his therapy and helps him improve his core strength as he tries to overcome his injury. By reconnecting to dance, Bruce has increased his confidence and boosted his mood.
“It was nice to see him dancing and smiling,” his dad said. “It sparked something in his mind.”
A ride to school that changed a family
Mansy had just dropped Bruce’s 15-year-old brother Samson off and had Carrie, 3, Jacob, 11, and Bruce in the backseat when a woman failed to yield and slammed into the car.
After coming to, Mansy checked on his children. Jacob and Carrie had some bruises and cuts. Carrie asked for a Band-Aid for her head.
But Bruce said something unnerving: “Dad, I can’t feel my legs.”
Mansy noticed a big bump on Bruce’s back. He took the other children from the car and slowly moved Bruce to the ground as they waited for an ambulance.
“I felt like kind of dizzy,” Bruce said.
When he arrived at the hospital, doctors realized Bruce was bleeding internally and removed part of his intestine. The impact had also crushed his T10 and T12 vertebra. They told the family a week later they’d perform back surgery, but that would simply stabilize the spine.
Bruce would probably never walk again.
“I felt like I was robbed of my life; my son’s life had been robbed,” said Mansy.
After six weeks in the hospital, Bruce returned home. While doctors did not feel optimistic Bruce would walk again, the family decided they were not giving up. They hoped Bruce would walk — and dance — like he once did.
That’s when his aunt, Lykeav Tang, found Project Walk.
How dabbing helps paralysis
Bruce has been going to weekly therapy at Project Walk, a program that uses physical activity to retrain the body and nerves to help people with paralysis regain some ability.
“His therapists are having him do moves to work with the core and his core actually helps him engage his legs,” said Carleen Doan, director of communication at Project Walk.
When the therapists realized Bruce loved dancing, they decided to add that into his therapy. While seated, he dabs and dances “The Whip” and “The Nae Nae.” Simply holding himself up and crossing his arms over his eyes to dab builds up the muscles in his stomach and helps him sit upright without falling.
While seated dancing energized Bruce, he experienced a huge surprise when the therapists put him in a harness to get his groove on.
“It was really amazing. He even said, ‘I can dance,’” said mom Lyhoy, 33. “It was really great to be able to see Project Walk incorporate dance into his training.”
For his parents, seeing Bruce dance again helped them, too.
“One of the things that makes him happy is dancing,” said Mansy. “I felt like everything was going to be OK.”
The therapy has already helped Bruce. He can wiggle his toes.
"It is a small thing, but it is a big thing for us," said Lyhoy. "That’s what the doctor told him would never happen."
She wants people to see Bruce dancing and feel inspired no matter what they face.
“We really want to encourage hope and to not give up,” she said. “We have been through it, we want to push on. Others can do it.”
The Mansy family drives three hours each way for Bruce’s therapy at Project Walk, which isn’t covered by insurance. You can contribute to his ongoing medical expenses here.