By Arielle Aronson/DFP Staff
Any hockey family’s nightmare came true for a family in Minnesota last week, as 16-year-old Benilde-St. Margaret’s High School player Jack Jablonski was left paralyzed following a hit from behind in a junior varsity tournament game.
Boston University coach Jack Parker was especially devastated by the news of Jablonski’s injury. Parker has lived through the horrors of a spinal cord injury since 1995, when then-BU freshman Travis Roy crashed head-first into the boards 11 seconds into his first collegiate game, an Oct. 20 matchup against the University of North Dakota. Roy cracked his fourth cervical vertebra, leaving him paralyzed from the neck down.
Parker remained very close with Roy in the years following Roy’s accident and sees him regularly. He was there to witness much of Roy’s rehabilitation process and had to coach the rest of the team through handling such a severe injury to a teammate.
“It makes me sick to my stomach to think about,” Parker said of his reaction to Jablonski’s injury. “ I know what he’s going to go through. I know what his family is going to go through. I know what all his friends and his whole social network he has will go through because of this horrible accident.”
Parker has yet to talk to Roy about Jablonski’s injury. He was supposed to see Roy anyway Thursday night, but Parker is not feeling well and had to cancel his plans. Instead, Parker said he now plans to call Jablonski’s coach to share his experiences as a coach of a player with a spinal cord injury.
“I didn’t know what was going to happen here,” Parker said of why he has waited to call Jablonski’s coach. “Nobody knows how bad it is going to be for a while. When it settles in and they see and they realize how this is going to affect everybody, it can get pretty shocking.”
Roy’s injury was higher in the spine (C4) than Jablonski’s (C5-C6), but Roy’s spinal cord was not completely severed the way Jablonski’s is, meaning Roy has a better chance of regaining sensation and movement. On Thursday, neurosurgeons at Hennepin County Medical Center who are treating Jablonski released a statement confirming that the damage to Jablonski’s spinal cord is surgically irreparable.
“Unfortunately, our pre-operative diagnosis was confirmed intra-operatively when we visualized the obviously horrific injury to his spinal column as a result of neck vertebrae dislocation and fractures,” the statement said. “An injury to the spinal cord of this nature results in sever neurological dysfunction and often leads to the inability to move the arms and legs. Spinal cord damage of this type is irreparable with surgery.”
When Parker was informed of the severity of Jablonski’s injury, Parker became visibly upset.
“He’s worse than Travis,” Parker said. “I bet those kids feel awful too. The one good thing about Travis was he was the hitter, not the hit-ee. The North Dakota defenseman doesn’t feel bad that he did something to Travis Roy. Those two kids must feel awful.”
This is not the first time Parker has reached out to a paralyzed hockey player. Norwood teen Matt Brown, then a 15-year-old sophomore playing on the Norwood High varsity hockey team, broke his C4 and C5 vertebrae and significantly bruised his spinal cord in a game against Weymouth High School on Jan. 23, 2010. Parker visited Brown and his family in the hospital soon after the injury.
“I was shocked to see how young he was,” Parker said. “I think he was a sophomore in high school. It was just, look at this kid. He looks like he’s 12 to me, you know. I just, they were all upbeat. This is going to be, he’s doing well. And I’m thinking, ‘You have no idea how this is going to go. Wait until you see what is going to happen now.’”
In the wake of Jablonski’s injury, the Minneapolis Hockey Association introduced an initiative called Jack’s Pledge, which would make players and coaches “commit to knowing the rules of hockey and playing by a strict interpretation of the rules.” The pledge asks players to do their best to avoid hitting in a way that would lead to dangerous situations.
But Parker said the initiative is not enough to avoid future injuries.
“Take off the facemask,” Parker said. “People wouldn’t hit people as hard. They wouldn’t get blindsided as much. They wouldn’t get hurt as much if they had the half shield instead of a full shield.
“These kids think their equipment is made in heaven. They can go kill people, and they have no respect for anybody because they don’t worry about hurting anybody. If your face is exposed, people get worried about it.”
Parker said he will wait until he speaks with Jablonski’s coach to determine what he and BU hockey can do to help Jablonski, but said at the very least, the team will likely send Jablonski a signed jersey and other memorabilia.
“They’re going to need an awful lot of support,” Parker said. “Travis got an unbelievable amount of support from the hockey community, the BU community, from the national hockey community. It was fabulous. They’re going to need a lot of support and a lot of help.”