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Jablonski has spinal surgery; outlook still not clear

By Jeremy Olson and David La Vaque, Star Tribune, 01/04/12, 8:58PM CST


Tributes to Jack Jablonski are planned at hockey events across the Twin Cities.

Jack Jablonski was surrounded by his Benilde-St. Margaret’s teammates at Hennepin County Medical Center.

Sixteen-year-old Jack Jablonski underwent surgery Wednesday to repair spinal damage he suffered Friday in a hockey collision that left him unable to move his legs.

A post on the family's Facebook support page said the procedure went "very well" and that he was recovering in intensive care at Hennepin County Medical Center, but it remains unclear if he'll gain more bodily function. A statement from the hospital regarding the procedure, which fused together two fractured vertebrae in Jablonski's neck, is expected Thursday morning.

The sophomore at Benilde-St. Margaret's was injured in a junior varsity tournament game against Wayzata when he was checked from behind and crashed head-first into the boards. Lying on the ice, Jablonski told his father he couldn't feel anything, but he gained some movement in his shoulders and right arm after being placed in traction and a halo neck brace at HCMC.

In addition to fracturing the two vertebrae, his spinal cord was severed at the C5 level, Dr. Tina Slusher said Monday during a briefing at the hospital. In general, the nerves that control the neck, shoulder muscles and biceps are at or above that level, while nerves controlling forearm, hand and leg muscles are below that level.

On Monday, Slusher described the absence of further movement as "very worrisome," though she allowed for some hope based on Jablonski's youth, strength and other factors.

Jablonski and his family have received prayers and good wishes in the form of thousands of Twitter posts and messages on their Caringbridge and Facebook websites. The tragedy has evoked heart-felt responses from celebrities as varied as actor Steve Carell, Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder and Twins pitcher Carl Pavano.

Now a series of tangible honors are being planned.

Now a series of tangible honors are being planned. Benilde classmates are planning to wear white Thursday in honor of Jablonski. A pond hockey tournament on Lake Minnetonka also is being planned Jan. 14.

Benilde and Wayzata hockey players had planned to bear his jersey number, 13, on their uniforms at a varsity game in Plymouth Thursday night, but the game was called off late Wednesday. A decision to cancel the junior varsity rematch had alreday been made days earlier because "neither team was ready to play again," according to Benilde's website.

About 100 Benilde-St. Margaret's boys' hockey players and parents met at the school's chapel Wednesday afternoon. Coach Ken Pauly read a statement from Leslie Jablonski, Jack's mother.

Pauly said the "emotional meeting" made "everyone aware of the challenges ahead. Guys are not giving up hope for their friend but we're under no illusion about the long fight ahead."

'Stop' signs

Earlier this week, Wayzata junior varsity coach Duke Johnson said the player who hit Jablonski from behind was distraught. "He's very upset," Johnson said. "[On Monday] at practice he was doing a little better because enough guys have told him, 'You weren't trying to hurt him.'"

Checks from behind are high risk because they can send players flying uncontrollably into the boards. Youth hockey jerseys have "STOP" signs on their backs to discourage such hits. Witnesses said the check on Jablonski wasn't severe or malicious, just enough to cause him to lose his balance.

The Minnesota State High School League issued a reminder Tuesday against this form of contact on the ice.

The incident has weighed on hockey players and coaches as play resumed after the holidays. "You could just kind of feel tonight whenever there was a hit along the boards everybody at the rink was on edge a little bit,'' said Minnetonka coach Brian Urick, whose boys' team played Eagan Tuesday night.

In St. Louis Park, where the incident occurred, players and coaches on the school's boys' team voted to give a game puck to Jablonski after the Orioles' overtime victory against Rogers Tuesday night.

On Monday, Jablonski's parents discussed how their son -- nicknamed Jabby -- loved hockey and would find some way to contribute to the game, whether through a miracle recovery that brought him back on the ice or by using the intellect that made him an honors student to advocate for player safety.

That sentiment was echoed on his Facebook support page Wednesday evening, where thousands have checked in to offer their support. "Let's just remember that no matter what happens, Jabby will always ... be the same strong and incredible Jabby that we know and love," the page's author posted Wednesday night. "He is going to do great things."

Jeremy Olson • 612-673-7744

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