Ryan Straschnitzki poses for a photograph in Philadelphia, Wednesday, March 20, 2019. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Matt Rourke)

‘Kind of lacking:’ Injured Bronco wonders why Canada won’t fund spinal surgery

“I think if Canada can step in and advance this program”

A hockey player paralyzed in the Humboldt Broncos bus crash says it feels good to be home after spending five weeks in Thailand, where he underwent spinal surgery.

“It feels good. I mean I felt that cold, cold wind hit my legs, so I’m feeling good. It’s good to be back,” Ryan Straschnitzki said Sunday night as he wheeled himself into the Calgary airport.

The 20-year-old from Airdrie, Alta., who is paralyzed from the chest down, had an epidural stimulator implanted in his spine while he was in Bangkok. A week later, doctors also injected stem cells above and below his spinal injury to try to reverse some of the damage.

Videos posted by Straschnitzki and his father in Thailand show him straightening a leg. In another, Straschnitzki kicks a ball.

In another clip, while he’s strapped into a harness, physiotherapists slowly help him walk with a wheeled machine.

“It was incredible. I mean the last time I walked beside my dad was before the accident and before I moved away,” said Straschnitzki. “So doing that again and just seeing the look in his eyes is motivating to me.”

Straschnitzki was one of 13 players injured when a semi truck blew through a stop sign and into the path of his junior hockey team’s bus at a rural intersection in Saskatchewan in April 2018.

Sixteen others on the bus were killed.

READ MORE: Paralyzed Humboldt Broncos player to get spinal surgery in Thailand

Tom Straschnitzki said he’s not an emotional guy, but watching the progress his son made in Thailand has given him hope.

“When I actually saw him move his leg, it just took me back to imagining his last steps going onto that bus on that fateful day. And I was just thinking maybe he can go back on the bus one day,” he said.

The surgery can cost up to $100,000 but isn’t covered by public health care or insurance, because it has not been approved by Health Canada. The Straschnitzkis say they’re frustrated the treatment isn’t available here.

Ryan Straschnitzki hopes his experience might at least get the conversation going.

“Our health-care system is kind of lacking in this area for spinal cord injuries and I think it’s huge that Thailand and some other places are getting this started,” he said.

“I think if Canada can step in and advance this program, I think it’ll help a lot of people out.”

Tom and Michelle Straschnitzki said they have been flooded with comments and questions about their son’s procedure.

“They want to try it and ask why doesn’t Canada do it? I don’t have the answer about Canada but they do it in Thailand and it is not experimental,” said Tom Straschnitzki.

Health Canada has said it provides licensed spinal cord stimulators but only for pain relief. A spokesman said it has not received an application to have stimulators used to regain motor skills.

READ MORE: ‘Loss for words’ — Injured Bronco shocked, excited over effect of spinal surgery

Ryan Straschnitzki said he isn’t expecting a cure but hopes his implant will restore some muscle movement.

“Just getting that feeling of being able to move something that I wasn’t able to move before — and I know core is a huge part of my disability, so anything below my chest is crucial. And after the programming it really helped,” he said.

Straschnitzki is hoping to make the Canadian sledge hockey team and compete in the Olympics. He even took his sled with him to Thailand and sat in it as part of his rehabilitation there.

He said he plans to take a few days off before returning to physiotherapy and hitting the ice again back home.

Bill Graveland, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Young musicians to gather in Nanaimo for West Coast Youth Fiddle Summit

Fiddlers from B.C., Alberta and the Yukon to participate in second annual event

LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Incentivize safer driving

We are effectively just socializing the cost of road accidents here, says letter writer

Lantzville opts against forming social media committee

Committee would have helped district council develop policy on social media behaviour

Nanaimo Hospital Auxiliary has been fundraising for 120 years

Hospital auxiliary president says group pioneered Wi-Fi at hospitals on Island

Gabriola Island community bus sees 100,000th rider

Gabriola Environmentally Responsible Trans-Island Express celebrated milestone Jan. 25

VIDEO: Kenney wants feds to approve Teck mine for benefit of First Nations

‘Surely [reconciliation] means saying yes to economic development for First Nations people’

Watch out for scams, clickbait in the wake of Kobe Bryant’s death: Better Business Bureau

Kobe Bryant and his daughter were killed in a helicopter crash near Los Angeles

‘Very disrespectful’: Headstones at Okanagan cemetery damaged by excavation crew

Headstones at Enderby’s Cliffside Cemetery mistakenly driven over by excavation crew

Despite reports of decline, birds flocking to national parks in Canadian Rockies

Recent studies suggest overall bird population has slid by three billion since 1970

Former UN committee member defends stance on B.C.’s Coastal GasLink pipeline

First Nations LNG Alliance accused UN committee, human rights watchdog of not doing their research

Opioid crisis to blame for shorter life expectancy in B.C. men, says Stats Can

Opioid crisis held responsible for declining life expectancy

Earthquake on top of highway closure a wake up call for Island’s West Coast

“When someone says, ‘Be prepared for 72 hours,’ that means exactly that: be prepared.”

Pregnant B.C. woman stuck in Wuhan, the epicentre of coronavirus outbreak

Woman is due to give birth in Wuhan, China unless she can get out

Most Read