Manitoba

Family of paralyzed hockey player 'grateful for the amazing support'

In a statement, Reese Ketler's family said the on-ice collision resulted in severe injuries to his neck and upper back, which required surgery to stabilize four vertebral fractures in his spine.

Reese Ketler, 19, was severely injured after a collision during a game last month

On Dec. 19, St. Vital Victorias junior hockey team player Reese Ketler, 19, was severely injured during a game after he collided with a player from the opposing Raiders Junior Hockey Club and went head-first into the boards. (Dwayne Joseph/Submitted)

The family of a 19-year-old hockey player who was paralyzed from the chest down after an on-ice collision last month says they're thankful for the outpouring of support from the community.

On Dec. 19, St. Vital Victorias junior hockey team player Reese Ketler was severely injured during a game after he collided with a player from the opposing Raiders Junior Hockey Club and went head-first into the boards.

In a statement, Ketler's family said the collision resulted in severe injuries to his neck and upper back, which required surgery to stabilize four vertebral fractures in his spine. Ketler injured his spinal cord and is now paralyzed from the chest down, and also has paralysis in his hands, his family said.

"We are grateful for the amazing support and prayers," read the statement, which was signed by Ketler's father, Trevor Ketler; his mother, April Gobert; and his older brother, Mitch Ketler. "We are in uncharted territory, and focused on Reese's recovery."

Ketler is a second-year member of the team, and a second-year business student at the University of Winnipeg, the statement said.

Surviving spinal cord injury

Another Winnipegger with a special affection for hockey has been dealing with the repercussions of a spinal cord injury for more than two-and-a-half decades, and wants to offer support to the young athlete.

At 17, Scott Coates broke his neck and was initially paralyzed due to a diving accident.

"It definitely hit home," he said, about Ketler's injury. "It's very familiar."

Although he hasn't spoken with the Ketler family, Coates tweeted about Reese's injury to share his support.

"I'd definitely love to speak to him and the family if they ever have questions regarding anything," Coates said.

When Coates experienced the life-altering injury, a lot of questions crept up about the severity of it, and what happens in the months and years ahead.

Now, he wants to offer his perspective to help the young athlete overcome some of the toughest hurdles early in the recovery period.

"It's almost the fear of the unknown and the uncertainty of where things can go from this point," Coates said.

A former WHL player, Coates said others he has heard from have also commented on how difficult it can be to watch the sport you love to play from the sidelines. Although his injury was not hockey related, he said it was tough at the initial stages of his recovery to get involved with the game as an observer, coach or mentor.

"I had a hard time watching it. It was something that you loved and was so passionate about."

It took a few months after his injury until he was able to walk again. He still deals with motor deficits. The left side of his body is weaker than the right, and he uses a cane for assistance.

'There is support'

The best advice he has received was to get back in the game — in any capacity.

His return started with watching and recording statistics, which grew into being more engaged with the team.

As a scout for the WHL and MJHL, Coates has been involved with AAA hockey in the city for nearly a decade, and currently coaches the Winnipeg Monarchs.

"The biggest thing is just knowing that there is support, not only from family and the hockey community … for individuals that do suffer catastrophic injury," Coates said, whether it's a peer who has survived a serious injury or the Canadian Paraplegic Association, which can answer specific spinal cord-related questions.

The family is raising money to help with medical support, mobility equipment and home and vehicle modifications. As of Sunday evening, their GoFundMe campaign had raised more than $160,000.

"I'm overwhelmed with the support and words of encouragement from the hockey community and beyond," reads a statement from Reese Ketler posted Saturday to the fundraiser's web page.

With files from Marina von Stackelberg

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