SIOUX CITY, Iowa (KTIV) -- Mobility is something many people take for granted. But once that's gone, it's more than just the ability to get up and walk around freely that's lost.
NewsChannel 4's Zach Tecklenburg has the story of one Sioux City teenager, moving forward with a life that hasn't gone according to plan.
Tom Mackey is seventeen years old, and a junior.
"I'm wishing I was in school every day of my life," he says.
Or at least since Tom was eleven. He was swimming underwater, when one of his friends jumped in, accidentally landing on Tom.
"We hit the bottom of the pool and when I hit my back at the bottom, you have a spinal sack around your spine. That ruptured and all the fluid rushed to my spinal cord, which made a cist there," Mackey said.
It's an injury that's set off a lifetime of pain and has kept him out of the classroom since the fifth grade.
"I can't sit because of my back, it hurts. You can't sit because of your ulcers. My ulcers were getting so bad where I had blood running down my leg," Mackey said.
The constant pain, frequent hospital stays, and more than twenty surgeries mean he's mostly confined to home, only leaving to visit the doctor. But it's not just the physical pain Tom fights.
"Depression is horrible," he says. "You'll be mad and you'll have no idea why you're mad."
Every day is a painful struggle.
Mackey says, "If you let it consume you and let depression consume you, then it will. It'll drive you crazy. And I've been there, I've been to rock bottom where I hate taking pills, I don't want to do this, I don't want to do math, I hurt all the time."
But, weekday mornings at 8:45 give him hope. That's when Tom logs into Skype for Algebra I.
"It's like being in the classroom," he said.
"They needed someone who could work with him via at home," said Sioux City East High School teacher Kevin Clark.
Tom already has an in-home instructor, but when the math became too advanced, Kevin Clark stepped in with the webcam program, Skype.
Clark says, "He could log on at home and I log in here at school and teach him."
It puts Tom front and center in Mr. Clark's classroom.
"He does the same things that all the other kids do and he loves it," Clark said.
"He'll just say, 'Mackey, what's this?' And I'll answer it," Mackey said.
Mackey's a teenager who would give anything to be in school.
"I've got to watch the whole time. I can't be out somewhere else."
A chance to virtually be shoulder to shoulder with kids his age -- classmates who turn the computer around to help him out -- means more than they'll ever know.
"That is one step closer to actually being there. That's the closest you can be to being there," Mackey said.
Clark says, "Every kid is like, in a sense, a little computer. We need to kind of check back with and I constantly need to check back with him to make sure, 'Are you getting it, are you getting it?'"
It's an extra step Mr. Clark's willing to take.
"Just to make a difference in a kid's life, it just makes it worth it."
It's added up to friendship, for a young man who values every relationship more than most.
Mackey says, "Thank you. That's all I can say."
For helping turn his life around.
"It's always the darkest before the dawn.
Tom's been taking Algebra I through Skype for more than two months now. He also communicates with Mr. Clark through e-mail and phone calls.
His surgeries have put him a year behind, and Tom hopes to graduate with the class of 2011, with hopes of attending college in the classroom.