Matt Olson is unable to move his arms or legs. He can manage a little shoulder shrug but hasn't lost a bit of his expressive nature.
"He'll give the therapists an eye roll, but says, 'OK, let's do it,' " Doug Olson said Tuesday morning, 16 days after son Matt suffered a severe spinal injury in a junior hockey game in suburban Chicago.
"Matt's accident is really going to change his life as well as our family's," Doug Olson said, "but the continued support we're getting from so many people is going to make this possible."
Doug and Sue Olson fought back tears during a news conference at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital outside of Chicago as they spoke publicly for the first time about their 20-year-old son's Feb. 21 accident "rendering him immediately quadriplegic," according to neurosurgeon Dr. John Ruge.
Matt, a onetime standout defenseman at Totino-Grace High School in Fridley, brushed against an opponent, then stumbled and fell headfirst into the boards while chasing a puck behind his defensive net.
Olson's family left their home in Isanti, Minn., to be with their son as he begins what Ruge called a "long recovery process" that will "require a lot of resources."
Ruge was part of the team that performed a seven-hour surgery to realign Olson's spinal cord. Ruge also helped identify Olson as a candidate for advanced stem cell therapy and, through the help of the hockey community, he will be the first to receive this treatment on a spinal cord, according to Ruge.
"Matt received a devastating injury during a hockey game," Ruge said. "Initially, I thought his spinal cord was completely severed. … We found it was really severely pinched.
"There is hope, and this is not just your generic hope. The hope is because the spinal cord was not completely severed … and it's completely decompressed now. … The other piece of hope is Matt doesn't have a head injury and has the ability to and strength to cooperate with this therapy, and he's doing that very well."
The treatment will cost millions of dollars, Ruge said.
The Olson family has already received support from various hockey communities. The Chicago Tribune reported that the Chicago Blackhawks, Rockford Ice Hogs, Florida Panthers and San Jose Sharks have donated memorabilia to Olson's team, the Chicago Cougars, to be auctioned off to help pay for Olson's medical bills.
The Cougars, who play in the U.S. Premier Hockey League, expect the donations to keep coming.
Doug Olson thanked Totino-Grace for spearheading the fundraising in Minnesota and spreading the word about his son.
A fundraising effort was started at www.gofundme.com/mattolson-3 to help with expenses. It has topped $100,000 as of Tuesday night.
"All the hockey community has just embraced us," Doug Olson said. "All the fundraising they've been doing has been amazing. … We get a lot of communication from Minnesota."
The parents chose not to discuss the hours after receiving word their son's injury. "We'll share that story another time," Sue Olson said.
Instead, she kept the focus on her son's recovery process: "He's already started some physical therapy, and it's not a pleasant experience. It takes an extreme amount of effort.
"He has the same attitude he's had on the ice that he's displaying now. He wants to get better, and he knows it's going to be tough work, and he's going to tackle it."