Recovery Stories

Ultimately, the story of spinal cord injury recovery is a story of people – people who are waiting for recovery, people who are helping make recovery possible, and the small but growing number of people who are beginning to experience the amazing results of new progress in spinal cord injury recovery research.

Jack's Story

Jack Jablonski #13

Jack Jablonski dreamed of becoming a professional hockey player. He was in his first pair of hockey skates at three. At the age of 15 he had a 50-goal season while leading his Bantam A team to the Minnesota State Tournament. The next year he scored a coveted spot on the Benilde-St. Margaret’s high school varsity hockey team.

On December 30, 2011, Jack was hit from behind during a high school hockey game. He suffered two fractured vertebrae in his neck and completely severed his spinal cord at the C5 level, resulting in quadriplegia. While lying motionless on the ice, Jack told his parents he couldn’t feel anything; he couldn’t move his legs. He was instantly paralyzed.

The First Miracle.

As news of Jack’s injury spread, the outpouring of support from around the world was amazing.

Thousands posted good wishes on Facebook; his story was trending on Twitter; his CaringBridge site exploded with visits; students in schools across the country held white-outs; his jersey number #13 surfaced everywhere as a symbol of hope and determination.

Youth hockey associations sold wristbands by the tens of thousands. The MN Wild dedicated Hockey Day Minnesota to support for Jack. NHL legends such as Wayne Gretsky, Bobby Orr, Jeremy Roenick, Alexander Ovechkin, Steven Stamkos, Zach Parise, Pavel Datsyuk, and many, many more reached out with personal calls of support. NHL players visited. Every NHL team sent a jersey.

The Minnesota Twins and Vikings also embraced Jack with their support.

Jack greeted this non-stop flow with his now-famous smile, his sense of humor, his upbeat nature and a desire to comfort others as reality set in. Many told this sixteen-year-old boy that he had become an inspiration for them.

When doctors told him he would never walk, Jack replied “I am going to skate again.” His determination to “prove the doctors wrong” empowers him to make remarkable progress on his road to recovery.

The Second Miracle – Getting Ready for Recovery.

After months in the hospital, Jack started intense physical therapy at Courage Kenny Rehabilitation Institute.

Thanks to pioneering changes to SCI therapy lead by Christopher Reeve, the ABLE (Activity-Based Locomotor Exercise) program was there for Jack to begin regaining his strength, and recovering what was lost to his injury. A part of the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation NeuroRecovery Network, ABLE offers an innovative approach to therapy that has helped Jack improve his health, fitness, strength and quality of life. Locomotor Therapy

The Next Miracle – Recovering What Has Been Lost.

The belief that paralysis is permanent has been challenged by recent advances in recovery research.

For the first time ever, medical journals have published research result documenting the progress of four young men with chronic (3+ years) paralysis who are regaining abilities once considered permanently lost when their spinal cords were injured. Using an implanted electrical stimulator, each has regained the ability to move their feet and legs as well as stand on their own for short periods. Each has also regained bowel and bladder control, sexual function, body temperature regulation, and even touch sensation below the point of their injury. Epidural Stimulation

Programs like ABLE are essential to preparing participants for this remarkable new ‘miracle’ of recovery.

Helping Jack Help Others.

Jeremy Roenick (NHL star now with NBC Sports) inspired Jack to help others. He told him during one of his many visits with Jack, “To whom much is given, much is expected.”

On the first anniversary of his injury, Jack announced the creation of the Jack Jablonski BEL13VE in Miracles Foundation. Its purpose is to raise awareness and funds to advance recovery for everyone living with a spinal cord injury. About Us

The foundation funds BEL13VER scholarships to help others gain access to the ABLE program and provides grants to accelerate recovery research.

Within days after Jablonski’s injury, the Minnesota State High School Hockey League implemented stricter penalties for checking from behind and boarding. By May 2014, the National Federation of State High School Associations adopted the same tougher rules to make the game of hockey safer. The changes, which begin with the 2014-2015 season, govern play in 17 states that offer hockey. The decision to implement tougher penalties is considered to be an unprecedented move in the high school hockey arena.

Jack’s New Normal.

Jack has come a long way since December 30, 2011.

He’s accepted his “new normal” and is determined to live a full life. As the 2013-2014 NHL hockey season launched, so did “Hockey Night in Minnesota with Jack Jablonski,” a weekly broadcast Jack hosts on 105 The Ticket Sports Radio with co-hosts Mike Morris and Bob Sansevere. Prior to his weekly stint on 105 The Ticket, Jack hosted “Jack in the Box,” a weekly podcast on KFAN Sports Radio. It’s no surprise that Jack is pursuing a career in broadcast journalism and will be attending the Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism at the University of Southern California.

Perhaps Jablonski’s Twitter profile best describes his determination and goal to walk and skate again: “Paralyzed hockey player. Won’t be forever. #BEL13VE.”

We BEL13VE in Miracles.

Some of Jack's recognition and awards.

Jack has been recognized with many honors over the past two years.

  • 2012 CBS Courage in Sports winner;
  • Named one of the Star Tribune’s “Top 12 Sports Stories in 2012.”
  • Named one of Minnesota Monthly’s “Twin Cities Most Influential People” in 2013.
  • U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame awarded him the “Spirit of Life” award in 2012
  • “Honorary Captain” award from the Hobey Baker organization 2012.
  • Awarded with the 2014 Benilde-St. Margaret’s Boys’ Hockey “Hobey Baker Character/Sportsmanship Award”
  • One of six recipients of the Benilde-St. Margaret’s prestigious “President’s Award.”
  • Graduated in June 2014 with his high school class, a goal he had set shortly after his injury.
  • Recipient of a Swim With Mike college scholarship for physically challenged athletes attending USC.

Sampling of media coverage.

His story has been featured on ABC-TV; CBS-TV; CNN; NBC-TV; NBC Sports; FOX TV; Fox Sports North; NHL Network; ESPN; ESPN Radio; WCCO Radio; 105 The Ticket; K-Fan; K-Twin; Sports Illustrated; USA Today; New York Daily News; The Huffington Post, Let’s Play Hockey; Hockey News; Ellen DeGeneres’ blog, and all Twin Cities regional broadcast and print media,
just to name a few.

Jablonski has over 53.5 thousand followers on Twitter (@Jabs_13) and over 2.3 million visits to his CaringBridge site.

BEL13VE Scholarship Recipients

Through scholarships, the BEL13VE in Miracles Foundation is already helping other individuals with spinal cord injuries gain access to the same advanced therapies helping Jack. Meet the first two recipients of BEL13VER Scholarships to the ABLE program:

Meet Lindsay. 19-year-old Lindsay Heimkes (now 26) was a college sophomore on her school’s basketball team when a devastating car crash injured her spinal cord – leaving her quadriplegic. Nearly four years after her injury, Lindsay entered ABLE. After just three months, she took her first steps with a walker. Beginning in January 2013 she was able to continue making progress in ABLE because a BEL13VER scholarship was available when she could no longer afford the therapy program on her own. Insurance did not support Lindsay's ABLE therapy, BEL13VERS did. Lindsay is continuing her therapy in Portland where she lives now.

Meet Kevin. On July 4, 2012, Kevin Marquis (then age 25) dove into Forest Lake and injured his spine, leaving him without use of his body from mid-chest down. In October that same year, a BEL13VER scholarship allowed Kevin to begin ABLE recovery therapy, and after three intense months he was able to walk completely unassisted. "ABLE gave me back my life," Kevin says. Insurance did not cover ABLE for Kevin. BEL13VERS did.

Meet Joe. In 2009, when he was just seven years old, Joe Lang suffered damage to his spinal cord as a result of a previously undetected defect in the arteries and veins of his spinal column. Emergency surgery repaired the blood vessels but not the damage to his spinal cord, which left young Joe without use of his body from below his shoulders. When he was 10, Joe's parents sought a place for him at ABLE so Joe could begin working to regain the abilities he had lost, but it took almost a year for a space to open up in July 2012. By then Courage Kenny had run out of scholarship money and his request for a scholarship was denied – and Joe when back on the waiting list. Two weeks after Joe's scholarship request was denied, donors at the Believe Gala nearly doubled the amount of scholarship support available for the ABLE program. With a BEL13VER scholarship, Joe was finally able to begin his recovery journey at age 11.

Meet the first four participants in the new Epidural Stimulation research

Four young men who have been paralyzed for years achieved groundbreaking progress – moving their legs – as a result of epidural electrical stimulation of the spinal cord. New research published in the medical journal Brain documents the effectiveness of epidural stimulation as a therapy option for chronic motor complete spinal cord injuries. Meet the first four (four more are starting this year, 2014):

Rob Summers. Rob was a college baseball player for the Oregon State Beavers. He was a pitcher with the 2006 College World Series Champions and had aspirations of being a major league player. Rob was injured on July 12th, 2006 when he was 20 years old, hit by a car in his own driveway. His injury was at C6 which left him paralyzed from the neck down. Rob was the first to undergo the experimental epidural stimulation program, implanted in Dec 2009. He currently resides in Portland, Oregon, is a motivational speaker who also coaches youth baseball when not travelling.

Kent Stephenson. Kent Stephenson is the second person to undergo epidural stimulation. Kent was a Pro Am Motocross racer when on June 9, 2009, his motor locked up going off the face of an 80-foot table top jump. This caused Kent to crash, doing several cart wheels in his landing, injured his spine at T5 and T6 which left him paralyzed from the chest down. Kent was 21 years old at the time and was implanted three years later, in August 2012. He resides in Mount Pleasant, Texas, and works with his father's construction business, Stephenson Dirt Contracting, as an estimator/operator. On weekends he enjoys activities such as skeet shooting, hunting, fishing, rock crawling, and trailing in his utility terrain vehicle side-by-side. Kent just purchased his own home sitting on 11 wooded acres.

Andrew Meas. Andrew was working as an electronics technician at Flextronics before his injury. Injured on Sept 6, 2006 when he was 28 years old, Andrew was riding a motorcycle, on his way home from the gym, when he had a head-on collision with a car as it attempted to cross through four lanes of traffic without a traffic light. He was injured at C6-C7, sustained a broken right femur and lost part of his right thumb in the accident. Andrew was the third person to be implanted with the epidural stimulator, which took place in Nov, 2012. He resides in Louisville, Kentucky with his wife and son, and is employed with the University of Louisville as an electronics technician.

Dustin Shillcox. Dustin was employed in the family business, DJ Glass, in Green River, Wyoming after graduating from high school. He was injured on August 26, 2010, when he was 26 years old. Dustin was driving the business van in nearby Rock Springs when a tire blew out and sent his van into a cable that lined the median. The van flipped and he was flung from the driver's side window. Dustin broke his back, sternum, elbow and four ribs, and his lungs collapsed; he had bleeding to the brain and injured his spine at T5, and was left paralyzed from the chest down. Dustin was implanted in Jan 2013 and completed his initial experiments in December that same year. He has resumed his active outdoor lifestyle with his family, including snow machining.