Denver Hockey Player 'Grateful' for Recovery from Broken Neck
By Vicki Michaelis, USA TODAY
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — University of Denver hockey player Jesse Martin walked with relative ease Tuesday into his first news conference since perilously breaking his neck Oct. 30 in a game at the University of North Dakota.
"I'm feeling like one of the most grateful people on the planet," he said.
A shoulder-to-head check by the University of North Dakota's Brad Malone sent Martin to the ice and stacked seemingly insurmountable odds against him. He had three fractures of his C-2 vertebrae, which could have been fatal or paralyzing.
Instead, after surgery Nov. 8 during which doctors inserted a screw and realigned his vertebrae, he probably will regain full motion of his neck. One of the doctors told him his situation was so improbable, it was "like winning the Powerball twice."
"You can't even come to grips with how fortunate I am," said Martin, 22, a senior forward from Edmonton, who was wearing a halo brace to stabilize his neck. "It's overwhelming, and I don't know if it ever won't be as overwhelming as it is right now."
Martin still has tingling and weakness in his left hand, effects from the trauma to his spinal cord, said his father, Terry Martin. But his father noted that his improvement in that also has been remarkable, from having no feeling in his hand five days ago to being able to catch a pill that unexpectedly popped out of a packet Tuesday.
"It's a miracle to me that he survived," Terry Martin said. "But then to see the trajectory of his progress is unbelievable."
Martin is rehabilitating at Craig Hospital, a Denver-area facility that specializes in treating traumatic spinal cord and brain injuries. He could be on an outpatient basis by Saturday and home in Edmonton for the holidays, his father said.
Martin, a business major, said he expects to return to school by January. Whether he will return to playing hockey remains to be seen.
"It's kind of in the back of my mind as far as things go," he said, later adding, "If I can't play the game the way I've played it my whole life, it's not fair to me and it's not fair to the game."
Playing hockey again was not at all foremost in his mind when he first realized the severity of his injury.
"It's amazing what goes through your head — being taken care of the rest of your life, not being able to take care of your kids," he said.
He was first taken to a Grand Forks, N.D., hospital, then flown to Regions Hospital in St. Paul, where he had the surgery. He arrived at Craig Hospital on Monday.
While in Minnesota, he called Malone to assure him "there was no blame or anger being felt towards him."
"I watched the hit. I thought it was OK," Martin said.
At the time of the hit, Malone got a five-minute penalty for charging and a 10-minute misconduct. He later served a one-game suspension.
"You talk about tremendous spirit," University of Denver head coach George Gwozdecky said of Martin's attitude throughout the ordeal, "not so much to get him through it but to get everybody else through it — including Brad Malone. It's hard to quantify that."
Just as it's hard to quantify Martin's against-the-odds recovery to this point.
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