Ryan Straschnitzki helps medical team members secure his legs into an ice hockey sledge during a mapping session at World Health Hospital in Nonthaburi, Thailand on December 6, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Cory Wright

Paralyzed Humboldt Bronco player happy with spinal surgery results

Ryan Straschnitzki, who can’t move from the chest down, had an epidural stimulator implanted in his spine

A hockey player paralyzed in a bus crash has been working hard since undergoing spinal surgery in Thailand late last year and it’s getting him closer to his dream of making the national sledge hockey team.

Ryan Straschnitzki, who can’t move from the chest down, had an epidural stimulator implanted in his spine in November. The device sends electrical currents to his spinal cord to try to stimulate nerves and move limbs.

Now the former Humboldt Broncos player spends a couple of days a week learning to walk with the help of a machine and trying to build up his legs.

“It’s taking some practice to get those muscles going again, but I’ve noticed even my spasticity is increasing. They’re bigger spasms and the legs are flying all over the place — but it’s good,” he said from his home in Airdrie, Alta.

“One step at a time, right? Any sort of progression is good.”

Straschnitzki’s efforts to improve his leg muscle mass and bone density, as well as his balance, are paying off.

In December, he was named to the Alberta sledge hockey team.

“Only being a year in and making the provincial team is a huge win in my books,” Straschnitzki said. “I’m excited to see where it goes in the future.

“They have camps every month and this year nationals are in Leduc (Alta.) in May, so I’m kind of working to get that roster spot to play.”

Straschnitzki, 20, was hurt when a semi-trailer and the Broncos team bus collided at a rural intersection in Saskatchewan in April 2018. Sixteen people were killed and 13 were injured. The truck driver pleaded guilty to dangerous driving causing death and was sentenced to eight years in prison.

Uyen Nguyen, executive director of the Synaptic Spinal Cord Injury and Neuro Rehabilitation Centre in Calgary, said she hopes the federal government takes notice of Straschnitzki’s success.

The surgery can cost up to $100,000, but isn’t covered by public health care or insurance, because the epidural procedure has not been approved by Health Canada.

“I am very, very hopeful that our Canadian government will be more receptive to progressive changes in medical technology,” said Nguyen.

“It is here in Canada and we know the device is safe. It’s being used for chronic pain, so all we need to do is shift perspective to look at other purposes this device could serve.”

Bill Graveland, The Canadian Press

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