Jablonski is proving experts wrong as he strives to walk again

Jack Jablonski wiped sweat from his forehead with the back of his right hand and lifted his left arm level with his shoulder. Simple tasks for most of us, but it is incredible to see Jablonski do them.

Jack Jablonski
A team of physical therapists work with injured prep hockey player Jack Jablonski (center) during a five-minute walk on a treadmill at Courage Center in Golden Valley on Wednesday, July 25, 2012. (Richard Marshall / St. Paul Pioneer Press)

Jack Jablonski wiped sweat from his forehead with the back of his right hand and lifted his left arm level with his shoulder. Simple tasks for most of us, but it is incredible to see Jablonski do them.

He is defying the doctors who said it was unlikely he ever would move his left arm. The injury he suffered in a high school hockey game in late December left him a quadriplegic. Two neurosurgeons who fused fractured vertebrae in Jablonski's neck in early January said at the time that the damage to his spinal cord was severe and "often leads to the inability to move the arms and legs."

The prognosis has brightened.

On Wednesday, I watched Jablonski move his arms and walk on a treadmill with the help of therapists at Courage Center Golden Valley.

With his upper body in a harness, he swung both arms and wiped away sweat as therapists moved his legs during what is called loco-motor training.


I hadn't seen Jablonski since late January, when I visited him at the Sister Kenny Rehabilitation Institute in Minneapolis. He was in a hospital bed then, his neck in a halo brace. He had little to no movement below the neck.

"His core strength is improving quite a bit," said Carrie Shogren, an occupational therapist working with Jablonski at Courage Center. "He's able to reach for things a little bit better. He's able to use his core muscles a lot better now."

Asked if she believed Jablonski would be able to walk on his own one day, Shogren said, "He's healthier. He's more active, so he's getting stronger. Those are the things we know for sure. We don't know for sure what people are going to be able to do. We have seen some pretty amazing things. And people are doing things we never thought possible."

Jablonski, 16, is lifting his left arm whenever he wants. That wasn't thought possible.

Injured Dec. 30 in a Benilde-St. Margaret's junior varsity game when he was checked from behind, Jablonski has had intermittent feeling and movement in his legs and feet. One recent evening, his father, Mike, was helping him into bed and scratched his foot. "He said, 'Dad.' He felt it," Mike Jablonski said.

Jablonski goes for rehabilitation services at Courage Center five days a week. To help defray medical costs, the Minnesota Wild have planned a gala tonight at the Xcel Energy Center that will include 800 guests and silent and live auctions. The sold-out dinner already has raised an estimated $120,000 in ticket sales.

Also in attendance and signing autographs will be about 30 current and former NHL players, including Jeremy Roenick, Ryan Suter, Paul Martin, Jordan Leopold, Thomas Vanek and Neal Broten.

A portion of the money raised will be donated to the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation, which provides grants to rehab facilities such as Courage Center. The Jablonski family has asked the Reeve Foundation to funnel their donation to Courage Center.


I talked to Jack Jablonski during a break Wednesday in his rehab work.

Bob Sansevere: You look like you're doing great, but let me ask you: How are you doing?

Jack Jablonski: I am, for sure, doing great. I'm living it, so I don't notice it as much. I have noticed a great difference. Three months ago, I could barely move my arm. Now I'm doing whatever I need to do.

BS: Doctors who performed surgery on you after the accident said it was unlikely you would move your left arm. Is there a certain satisfaction knowing the doctors were wrong?

JJ: Oh, for sure. That's definitely a satisfaction. But I guess I'm not satisfied until I get on my feet and start walking. It's obviously satisfying to prove them wrong and move body parts that they didn't say I would. Obviously, the goal is to be on my feet eventually.

BS: Any doubt in your mind about that happening?

JJ: No. I know it will. I understand it will take time. Right now, I'm happy with the improvements I'm making.

BS: When you do the loco-motor training (on the treadmill), are there times you feel yourself walking? Are you getting intermittent feeling in your legs?


JJ: At random times, I am. My mom was stretching my legs out one time and she pulled it too far, and I was like, "Ow, that hurts a little." I could feel the stretching in the back of my knee and the hamstring area.

BS: It must have been one of the best hurts you've ever had.

JJ: For sure. It's obviously satisfying to see it and live it and get the feeling a few times in my toes and feet. I'm just trying to stay positive and look forward.

BS: What are your doctors telling you now? Are they encouraging about being able to walk again?

JJ: I haven't talked a lot (with doctors) since I left Sister Kenny in April. They said there always are possibilities and there always are miracles. I believe in that. They can always be wrong. When they give you the news that this or that can happen, they always have to give you the worst. We understand that. I believe they're wrong. And I know they'll be wrong. It's just a matter of time and looking forward.

BS: What were you doing a year ago?

JJ: A year ago today, I'd be out on the lake or on the golf course or even in a hockey rink with my friends, just living life like it was. I still have the same friends, and they're all there for me.

BS: What happened was a terrible thing, but I don't know anyone who could have handled it better. You have become an inspiration for others.


JJ: Thank you for the compliment. It's crazy the stories people have told me and what they've come from. A lot of this happens to people, and you don't hear about it. I try to inspire people to live life to the fullest.

BS: You're on Twitter (@jabs_13) and your dad told me you use your knuckles to type messages. I've seen people with full use of their fingers who make far more spelling errors and mistakes than you do.

JJ: I can thank my iPhone for that. It does self-correct. I'm a pretty good speller, and I'm a perfectionist, too. I use the back of my pinkie and knuckle.

BS: How excited are you about the gala?

JJ: It's very exciting. I'm really looking forward to it. It'll be a really good time. I can't thank enough all the people who'll be there, especially the Wild for helping us out so much. It's almost like a dream come true -- what everyone has done to help out.

BS: A year ago, how many NHL hockey players did you know?

JJ: I knew one. (Former Wild defenseman) Willie Mitchell.

BS: How many do you know now?


JJ: Hundreds.

BS: You didn't return to school for the remainder of your sophomore year after the injury. Your dad said you will be back in school this year.

JJ: The first day of school. Five days a week. I am looking forward to it. I miss everyone. I miss the social aspect of it because I am a social butterfly. To get back in school will be a sense of normalcy.

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