A Minneapolis high school hockey player who suffered a severed spinal cord during a game likely won't walk again, doctors say.
16-year-old Jack Jablonski collapsed on the ice Dec. 30 after two players rammed him from behind, smashing him into the boards during a holiday tournament in St. Louis Park, Minnesota.
"His face slammed against the boards and his body was straight up and down," Chris McGowan, Jablonski's junior varsity coach at Benilde-St. Margaret's High School told local NBC affiliate KARE-TV.
After the hit, Jablonski fell to the ice and lay motionless. He told his coach he couldn't feel anything in his hands or feet, McGowan said.
"It's a parent's worst nightmare," his father Mike Jablonski told the Minneapolis Star Tribune. "He dropped and didn't move. Right then and there I knew that my son, that there was something seriously wrong."
The teen was rushed to a local hospital, where he was placed in a halo to stabilize his spine. Doctors later determined he suffered broken vertebrae and that his spinal cord was severed.
He underwent surgery on Wednesday to fuse his spine. Though the procedure was a success, his parents said on their website doctors confirmed their son's injuries were so horrific that he won't walk again.
"Jack has limited mobility and no movement in his lower body," they wrote Wednesday night. "As we feared, he will not be able to walk or skate."
Dr. Walter Galicich, Jablonski's neurosurgeon, told the Star Tribune his injuries were the result of tucking his chin when he hit the board. The impact pushed one vertebra in front of the other, the surgeon told the newspaper, meaning the bone tube through which the spinal cord runs "was basically nonexistent."
"We can fix the bone, but we can't fix the spinal cord," he said. "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."
The sophomore's hospital room has seen a steady stream of visitors, including teammates in red jerseys and even former Minneapolis North Star player and coach Lou Nanne, KARE reported.
High school students throughout Minnesota and in states as far as Massachusetts and Louisiana wore white Thursday in honor of "Jabby," according to the Star Tribune. The response has been even more dramatic online: his parent's website has seen more than 200,000 views and by Friday morning a Facebook page for him had garnered more than 43,000 "likes."
Teammate Austin Polson-McCannon told the station after his visit earlier this week that Jablonski was in good spirits.
"He was good. He was making jokes and taking with us and he sounded good," he said.
Jablonski's injuries have renewed talk about the dangers of high school hockey, particularly checking from behind, where the risk of injury is high.
"We have the rules against checking from behind. We just have to apply them better," Ken Pauly, head varsity coach for Benilde-St. Margaret's, told the Star Tribune. "We have to start from a young age. Just like taking a stick and slashing a player across the face is unthinkable, we have to make checking from behind unthinkable."
Despite Jablonski's grim prognosis, his parents maintained a hopeful tone.
"Our priority is to help Jack accept and transition into his new life, a life that we did not plan, but one that we have to embrace," they wrote on their website. "We have a mountain to climb, but with your support, we know that Jack's youth, strength and determination will help him make remarkable strides."