Doctor says spinal cord can't be fixed, support vital

  • Article by: CURT BROWN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 6, 2012 - 7:09 AM

Jack Jablonski's neurosurgeon, Dr. Walter Galicich, said on Thursday the overwhelming flood of support is vital as the teenager starts learning to live with his injuries.

"Jack needs that support not only now, but a few months down the road."

The doctor gave a grim account of the injuries, saying Jablonski dislocated his spine and suffered "several fractures and significant ligament disruptions" that means it's "very unlikely" that he'll have the use of his hands and will be unable to walk or use his legs.

"We can fix the bone, but we can't fix the spinal cord," Galicich 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."

As horrific as Jablonski's injuries are, Galicich said they're also all too common. He said Hennepin County Medical Center has averaged more than 60 severe spinal cord traumas annually over the past four years. "Unfortunately, we're dealing with families in this situation on a weekly basis."

Jablonski had two surgeries, one to fix an artery in his neck to prevent a stroke and then a three-hour operation Wednesday to fuse his fifth and sixth vertebrae, using a cadaver bone and titanium plate.

Galicich said he thinks Jablonski's injuries were as a result of tucking his chin when he hit the board after being checked from behind in a junior varsity game. The collision moved the fifth cervical vertebra well in front of the sixth, the surgeon said, meaning the bone tube through which the spinal cord runs "was basically nonexistent."

Jablonski is expected to remain in intensive care for a few days before moving to a rehabilitation facility. The fusion has stabilized his neck and will allow him to sit up after nearly a week on his back. He'll remain in a halo to brace his neck for months. He does have some movement of his upper right arm, which the doctor said could help him operate a wheelchair and feed himself.

"He's got a tremendous amount of recuperative abilities because of his young age," Galicich said. "He's a terrific kid, and obviously he and his family are devastated by this tragedy."

Curt Brown • 612-673-4767

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