Former Humbolt Bronco hockey player Ryan Straschnitzki who was injured in a team bus crash gets help putting on his jersey with PX3 AMP hockey team in Calgary, Wednesday, Oct. 30, 2019. The mother of a hockey player paralyzed in the Humboldt Broncos bus crash says she’s stunned by the progress he has made since receiving spinal surgery in Thailand to help restore some of his movement. Ryan Straschnitzki received the spinal implant in Bangkok earlier this month.
Todd Korol / THE CANADIAN PRESS
A hockey player paralyzed in the Humboldt Broncos bus crash says he has seen massive improvements to his core balance since receiving spinal surgery in Thailand.
Doctors implanted an epidural stimulator in Ryan Straschnitzki’s spine earlier this month and a week later injected stem cells above and below the injury in the hope that will help reverse some of the damage.
The 20-year-old from Airdrie is to remain in Thailand until early December.
On Thursday, Straschnitzki took part in a Facebook Live chat with Epidural Stimulation Now to provide an update on his progress. He said core balance, one of the greatest obstacles since he became paralyzed, has been the biggest change in his bodily function since the surgery.
“When the stimulator’s turned on, I’m able to do way more things than I am without it on,” Straschnitzki explained.
“I think that core function helps out a lot. I mean, not having a core, being such a high-level injury, you’re always worried about having to grab on to things and not try to fall out of your chair. For me, having that core balance helps out a ton with everyday things such as picking things up or having to transfer things from counter to table.”
Straschnitzki was one of 13 players who were injured when an inexperienced truck driver blew through a stop sign and into the path of the Saskatchewan junior hockey team’s bus in April 2018. Sixteen others on the bus died.
Straschnitzki, left paralyzed from the chest down by the collision, has said he isn’t expecting a cure but hopes the implant will restore some muscle movement.
The implant, a small remote-control-like device, sends electrical currents to his spinal cord to try to stimulate nerves and move limbs. It is being programmed to stimulate certain nerves mapped out by surgeons and therapists.
Straschnitzki’s father, Tom, who is also in Thailand, has posted a number of videos of his son’s rehab, including one where the young man was able to move a leg. Another video shows him strapped into a harness as physiotherapists slowly help him walk with the use of a machine on wheels.
Bout time he got off his ass. 1st time since he boarded the bus that horrendous day. 2nd day of doing this. Therapist helping with knees and ankles so they dont buckle. Ryan did so good, I sent him to the beerstore for me. Im thinking he didnt go as Im still waiting. #thirstySON pic.twitter.com/memXrR4yX1
— Strazsr (@strazsr) November 20, 2019
Straschnitzki said he has been in Thailand now for two-and-a-half weeks, reaching the halfway point before he is due to return home. Asked how he felt taking his first steps, Straschnitzki described it as “unreal.”
“It’s not something I’m used to doing in the last year and a half, so to see myself doing it on camera is pretty amazing,” he said. “It’s all thanks to the people here.”
The surgery can cost up to $100,000 and isn’t covered by public health care or insurance, because the epidural procedure has not been approved by Health Canada. The family is paying for it themselves. It is also performed in countries such as the United States and Switzerland, but it is much cheaper in Thailand.
Straschnitzki said it’s even helped him regain some control in his bowel and bladder, cutting in half the time he takes to get ready for the day each morning.
“When the stimulator’s turned on, all your muscles are tightened and things start to move more fluidly,” he said.
His mother Michelle said she’s stunned by the progress he has made since the surgery.
“Hands down, I’m 200 per cent behind this. I didn’t expect this kind of result this quickly,” Michelle said. “It’s definitely not a quick fix. It’s not a cure, but it’s certainly progress and it’s more than we’ve had in 19 months.”
The player’s mother, who didn’t go to Thailand, said he’s been low key when she’s talked to him.
“In typical Ryan fashion, he’s very quiet. All he says is he’s very tired and you can tell. His body, his mind, everything is tired because he’s pushing as far as he can.”
Her son takes part in nerve mapping in the morning, does physio in the afternoon and then does more work with the implant, she said. He still plans to hit the ice in Bangkok with his hockey sled before returning home.
Michelle said seeing her boy’s progress on the videos was an emotional experience.
“I was just absolutely floored. It obviously brought the tears. I was bawling. It was unreal,” she said.
“Tom said the last time Ryan walked was when he walked on the bus and then, to watch him moving his legs, walking essentially, that just rocked me.”