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

Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of Sept. 20 to 26

Rabbit Day, Hobbit Day and One-Hit Wonder Day are all coming up this week

Port Hardy Mounties help First Nation chief build smokehouse

‘We have great maya’xala for all the community members, in each of the communities…’

Emaciated grizzly found dead on central B.C. coast as low salmon count sparks concern

Grizzly was found on Gwa’sala-‘Nakwaxda’xw territory in Smith Inlet, 60K north of Port Hardy

Access to remote Side Bay beach up in the bureaucratic air

Roads to the pristine north west coast Vancouver Island beach at risk of being deactivated

B.C. or Ontario? Residential school survivors fight move of court battle

It’s now up to Ontario’s Court of Appeal to sort out the venue question

Body discovered floating in water near Lasqueti Island

JRCC reports personnel aboard fishing vessel made the find

Young B.C. cancer survivor rides 105-km with Terry Fox’s brother

Jacob Bredenhof and Darrell Fox’s cycling trek raises almost $90,000 for cancer research

B.C. migrant, undocumented workers rally for permanent residency program

Rally is part of the Amnesty for Undocumented Workers Campaign led by the Migrant Workers Centre

Preparations underway for pandemic election in Saskatchewan and maybe B.C.

Administrators in B.C. and around the country are also looking to expand voting by mail during the pandemic

Nearly 20 per cent of COVID-19 infections among health-care workers by late July

WHO acknowledged the possibility that COVID-19 might be spread in the air under certain conditions

Ferry riders say lower fares are what’s most needed to improve service

Provincial government announces findings of public engagement process

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg dies at 87

The court’s second female justice, died Friday at her home in Washington

Comox Valley protesters send message over old-growth logging

Event in downtown Courtenay was part of wider event on Friday

Most Read