Doctors claim that Jack Jablonski, a high school hockey player who severely injured his spinal cord during a game, will never walk again and may not regain use of his hands.
The 16-year-old honor student and hockey forward suffered severe bruising to his spinal cord after scoring his first and only goal for his junior varsity team. The Minneapolis teenager collapsed on the hockey ring after two opposing high school players slammed him into boards during a hockey game on Dec. 30.
He remains in critical condition with two fractured vertebrae. His spinal cord was severed at the neck and he is unable to move his legs, but has slight movement in his hands, right arm and shoulders. Doctors do not expect he will be able to walk or use his legs again.
We can fix the bone, but we can't fix the spinal cord, Dr. Walter Galicich, Jablonski's neurosurgeon, told the StarTribune. It's our job to be realistic and the family's job to be optimistic. Hopefully, he'll prove me wrong but, at this point, we can't expect much recovery.
Jablonski's serious injuries will require support for months as he learns to live with his injuries. He has had two surgeries in the past week. The first surgery corrected an artery in his neck to prevent a stroke. The second operation on Wednesday was a three-hour procedure where Jablonski's fifth and sixth vertebrae were fused together in a spinal surgery using a cadaver bone and titanium plate.
He's got a tremendous amount of recuperative abilities because of his young age, Galicich told the StarTribune. He's a terrific kid, and obviously he and his family are devastated by this tragedy.
Jablonski will remain in intensive care for a few days before relocating to a rehabilitation facility. Doctors expect he will be able to sit up after his back recovers in a week. He will wear a neck brace for a few months, but he already has some movement of his upper right arm. Doctors hope he will be able to use a wheelchair and feed himself with his right arm.
Galicich claims the injuries suffered are more common that one might think. Hennepin County Medical Center has handled more than 60 severe spinal cord trauma cases in the past four years.
Unfortunately, we're dealing with families in this situation on a weekly basis, he said.
Galicich believes Jablonski's injuries were caused when he tucked his chin after being checked from behind into a board at a high school hockey game.
It's a parent's worst nightmare. He dropped and didn't move. Right then and there I knew that my son, that there was something seriously wrong. It was a very hard hit, Mike Jablonski told the Star Tribune.
Jablonski's injuries have provoked outrage and requests that the level of physical contact in youth hockey games be reduced.
This is one of the reasons why USA Hockey legislated checking out of peewee hockey, said Lou Nanne, a former NHL player and general manager considered by many to be the dean of Minnesota hockey, told the Star Tribune. For all those people who wonder why, now you know why.''
While Jablonski's parents do not blame the two Wayzata players who checked their son into the boards, they do criticize the hockey culture that encourages violence that can be dangerous to young bodies.
The checking seems to be a hot issue. This can be avoided. In two seconds, our lives just changed. All of our lives changed, Jablonski's mother, Leslie, told the Star Tribune. We just want to make sure this doesn't happen again. And if they keep playing the game the way it is, there's going to be more attacks in situations like this.
Jablonski is facing a long recovery that many believe could have been avoided if stricter rules were enforced in youth hockey. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that body checking be banned under the age of 15, but in Minnesota it is allowed above the age of 12.
U.S. emergency room visits for ice hockey-related injuries for teens 14 to 19 rose from 2,935 in 1990 to 7,713 in 2006. Although hockey-related injuries can occur from a number of incidents, there has been increased encouragement for young players to be aggressive on the ice.
There's a big difference between hitting and checking, and there is more malicious hitting going on in the last year, said Keith Hendrickson, an amateur scout for the Buffalo Sabres NHL team, told the Star Tribune. Nobody condones it, but all I hear from coaches is, 'Body! Body! Body!'''