‘He powers through:’ Music, swimming part of therapy for paralyzed hockey teen

The father of a junior hockey player who was paralyzed in a bus crash says his son is making good progress as he receives specialized spinal treatment in the United States.

Ryan Straschnitzki, who had been getting physiotherapy at Calgary’s Foothills Medical Centre, has been continuing his rehabilitation at the Shriners Hospital for Children in Philadelphia for the last week.

The 19-year-old was paralyzed from the chest down when a bus carrying his Saskatchewan junior hockey team, the Humboldt Broncos, was in a collision with a semi-trailer on a rural highway in April. He suffered a spinal injury, broken ribs, a broken collar bone, a punctured lung and bleeding in his head and pelvis.

“There’s pool therapy maybe tomorrow and he has had music therapy. They gave him a guitar signed by the lead singer of (rock group) Boston to play with in his room with an amp,” the teen’s father, Tom Straschnitzki, told The Canadian Press.

“Gets loud in here. Gonna try drums. It’s hard as he has no core strength, but his balance is getting good.”

Some of the treatment is aimed at making the young man more independent.

“He practised wheelies to go up and down curbs. I try everything he is doing, try to use my arms only. The simplest thing for you and me is new learning for him but he powers through.”

The Shriners began the first pediatric spinal cord injury rehabilitation program in the United States in 1983. They say the program includes a wide range of rehabilitation aimed at building strength, confidence and “independence to the fullest extent possible.”

His son hasn’t lost his competitive spirit, said Straschnitzki.

“Ping-Pong was interesting but he did it and beat me. I beat his ass in air hockey. Then he kicked mine in basketball. I was standing for the Ping-Pong and basketball. For the air hockey, I sat.”

“And I don’t let the kids win. They have to earn it.”

Straschnitzki said the family continues to be overwhelmed by support from the public south of the border. He said there are people who show up and want to visit his son, but are being turned away by security.

“One lady drove three hours to see him on Saturday and gave him a huge gift basket of goodies … We didn’t know so the security brought up the goody bag.”

One visitor who made it past security was Ron Hextall, a former NHL goalie who played for and became general manager of the Philadelphia Flyers.

“Ron Hextall came by and chatted for about an hour, then gave Ryan a Flyers sports bag with winter jacket, shirts, hats.”

The Broncos were on their way to a playoff game when their bus and the semi collided. Sixteen people were killed and 13 were injured. RCMP have only said the truck was in the intersection when the crash occurred.

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