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

76 new cases of COVID-19 reported Thursday

Active cases at 1,036, 10,713 recovered cases

Alberta RCMP launch online crime reporting

Select property crimes can now be reported online through the province-wide initiative

COVID-19 tests urged for all teachers and school staff

121 new cases Wednesday, active cases up to 1,040

Two-night fundraiser supports Sylvan Lake family after parent death

Billy Cooney, owner of Cooney Creek Plumbing and Heating, died July 25 after a dirt bike accident

Sylvan Lake Community Partners reorganizes to better serve clients

The facility was thoroughly cleaned and reorganized during its shutdown due to COVID-19

Charges likely in fatal attack at central Alberta medical clinic: RCMP

A vigil was held Monday night to mourn the victim

Wetaskiwin Regional Public Schools receive grant from Indigo Love of Reading Foundation.

WRPS has received $15,975 from the Indigo Love of Reading Foundation.

Three people drown at Crescent Falls

Rocky Mountain House RCMP say the incident occurred Tuesday

Feds seeking private consultant to design firearm buyback program

The ban covers some 1,500 models and variants of what the government considers assault-style weapons

Face masks for teachers can impact learning on young children, experts say

Face coverings, mandatory in most indoor public places across the province, can help limit the spread of COVID-19

New Tory leader must build a strong team in Commons and for the campaign: Scheer

Scheer marked his final day in the House of Commons today as leader of the Opposition

Man accused of killing Red Deer doctor says he does not remember attack

Appearing before a judge, Deng Mabiour, 54, rambled about being sick and needing a doctor

Deaths feared after train derails amid storms in Scotland

Stonehaven is on the line for passenger trains linking Aberdeen with the cities of Edinburgh and Glasgow

Man, 54, charged in connection with fatal attack of Red Deer doctor

Doctor was killed in his walk-in clinic on Monday

Most Read