ALPHARETTA, Ga. -- Children who play sports are used to falling down and getting right back up. But not Hunter Meredith.
The Alpharetta 14-year-old has the feet of Fred Astaire and the hair of Justin Bieber, but he would much rather be Tony Hawk.
"I'm kind of an extreme sports type of person," says Meredith. When asked his favorite, he replies, "Probably skateboarding."
Long before he became infatuated with boards, Meredith was all about bikes. He started dirt biking at five years old and competed regularly on local tracks by age nine.
"Dirt biking was what held me together," says the teenager. "It instantly made me feel better -- a way to get rid of all my stress."
According to his mother Chrissy, Meredith was always the most cautious kid on the track. The one time he landed wrong, he almost lost his life.
"I went off a jump," he recalls, "and I guess I turned into the jump and landed on my back tire and swerved into a fence on the side of the track."
Meredith's spine separated from his skull.
"It was just a scary sight to see," says mother Chrissy. "It was like, 98% of people don't make it ... and I was like, 'What?' It was just a scary time."
Her child arrived at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta at Egleston. Dr. David Wrubel, the hospital's chief of pediatric neurosurgery, saw in Meredith a boy who was lucky to be alive. Wrubel also saw a possible solution to avoid potential paralysis.
He would surgically attach Meredith's ribs to his neck.
"I tell the family that I'm the farmer," Wrubel says of the surgery, "and the seeds that I plant are the rib. In time that rib will grow into the bones that are broken and allow a stable construct."
Meredith's surgery was a success; he has spent his recent years dealing with other hurdles.
"It's just that everything I loved to do was gone," he says. "I feel like the teenager that doesn't roughhouse with the rest of his friends because he's afraid he might hurt himself again."
Over time, he has found new passions -- namely, skateboarding. Meredith now spreads his story of survival to any audience that will listen.
And he feels great.
"It's just like I'm riding down a huge hill," Meredith says, "and nothing can stop me."
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