By Leonard E. Colvin
New Journal and Guide
Last Friday at the Virginia Beach Convention Center, when the 508 graduating seniors at Landstown High School marched across the stage, Mark Carney was among them.
Like his other classmates, the past 18 years hopefully will have prepared them for the challenges and rewards they will encounter along their individual paths forward.
But before he took his first steps in life, Carney was born with a challenge that he has managed to overcome with the help of family, friends and his own desire to life a normal life in spite of it.
Mark was an unusually large baby at over nine pounds and was situated in his mother’s womb in such a way that he had to be “vacuumed” out, posing a threat to his even surviving the procedure.
Mark Carney was born with Brachial plexus palsy, also known as Erb’s palsy which is a paralysis or weakness of the arm. It is caused by an injury to one or more nerves that control and supply the muscles of the shoulder and upper extremities (upper brachial plexus). It is more commonly seen in newborns (neonates) and is often the result of a difficult delivery.
His right arm is deformed and unusable, but it has not deterred him from living an active and full life, and playing school basketball.
His mother Angela Carney, a Virginia Beach social worker, said her son was a fragile child. Before he was six-years-old, she said he endured eight complicated surgeries, most of them up to 25 hours at a time, to assure he could correct physical problems with his spine and other parts of his body that would allow him to function, despite his handicap.
“We did not know if he would survive them,” Mrs. Carney said. “We would talk to the doctor and the anesthesiologist who told us he could die or he could be paralyzed that first year after he was born.”
By the second grade at age eight, at the end of the eighth surgery which grafted a muscle from his leg to be placed near his spine to help him breathe, Carney said her son declared “he did not want any more surgeries and accepted his body as it was.”
“We had a choice and we could not control how he was made,” said Mrs. Carney. “But my husband, Mark, and I, we, had faith.
We pushed back against other people who wanted to give up and not allow him to have a quality life with no limitations. The doctors will tell you one thing … our faith told is another.
Along with the surgeries, there was extensive physical training and conditioning to help him develop the skills to navigate life with one arm.
His mother said there also was the confidence and character building from the “tough love” of his parents, especially she who would tell “him to get off his butt and get to work being active.”
“We knew he needed to be active and busy,” said Mrs. Carney. “We definitely knew that football was out of the question. So we steered him toward basketball.”
“He worked his way up, despite the handicap,“ she continued. “He was encouraged by his male cousins and family. We knew he would have to compensate. But the more he played, the better he got.”
“There were times when I wanted to give up … and quit,” said Mark Carney. “I was very hard on myself. But my family, especially both of my parents, motivated and pushed me. They told me the more I put into it, the more I would get out of what I did.”
Starting in the seventh grade, Mark launched his public school basketball career. Despite his handicap, Carney, small of stature, had a big heart, was competitive, and with lots of summer round ball camp, he was able to build skill, muscle and confidence,
He was a small Forward.
“I have been mostly a role player to bring energy and hustle to the flow of the game,” he said. “I played defense, assisted and scored … an average of six points a game. I allowed the flow of the game to come to me.
“I played AAU (Amateur Athletic Union) for two years,” said Carney, who stands 5’10. “I was the kid who played with one hand’ I was not a celebrity.”
The Landstown Eagles finished second in the Virginia Beach round ball division with a 14-8 overall record in 2018. Carney, who said he was not a starter, said his senior year on the court was the most fulfilling.
He describes himself as an outgoing and friendly young man who has a roster of friends and a diary of personal experiences to compliment his play on the court.
Along with varsity basketball and other sports he enjoys playing or watching, music and video games are part of his hobbies, “which have helped me develop personally and socially.”
On graduation day, Carney was 82nd among the 508 seniors who received their diplomas having chalked up a 3.7 Grade Point Average.
This fall he will bounce off to Richmond where he will be attending Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) majoring in psychology because he is fascinated with “how the mind is affected by the environment.”
“I will also be campaigning and working with handicapped children,” said Carney. “My family and friends motivated me at times when I wanted to give up. The more you push yourself, the more you overcome.
“I could be worse off than I am now. I want to tell them to not allow their handicap to keep them from living a normal life.”