Ryan Straschnitzki (“Ryan”), who was paralyzed in the Humboldt bus crash, has taken his first steps following ground-breaking surgery in Thailand.
In April 2018, Ryan was injured when a semi-truck ran a stop sign and hit a bus that was carrying him and his Saskatchewan junior hockey team. Sixteen people died in the accident.
Ryan, now 20 years of age from Airdrie, Alberta, was one of 13 players injured in the bus accident. He suffered paralysis from the chest down as a result of the crash.
In early November 2019, doctors in Thailand implanted an epidural stimulator in his spine and then a week later injected stem cells above and below his injury to help reverse some of the damage.
WHAT IS EPIDURAL STIMULATION?
Epidural stimulation is a procedure involving the transmission of electrical impulses into the spine. It involves a surgery that places electrodes on the surface of the dura (the tissue that wraps around the spinal cord). The implanted device works like a remote control to send electrical currents to the patient’s spinal cord in an attempt to stimulate certain nerves and move limbs. Electrodes are connected to a device called an implantable pulse generator (IPG) placed elsewhere in the body, often in the patient’s lower back.
Patients taking part in epidural stimulation also undergo hours of intense physical therapy. According to Michelle Straschnitzki (“Michelle”), while in Thailand her son endured nerve mapping in the morning, physiotherapy in the afternoon and then returned to working with the implant.
The procedure costs up to $100,000 and is not covered by any public health care or insurance as it has not yet been approved by Health Canada. Although the procedure is being performed in the United States, it is much cheaper in Thailand.
Ryan’s family had to fund his surgery and rehabilitation while in Thailand. There was a lot of research, planning and fundraising required in order to proceed with the surgery so far away from home. Ryan stated:
There were a lot of ups and downs. Fundraising for this surgery, it isn’t cheap so thanks to all the people who helped out. I wouldn’t be where I am today without them.
Following five weeks in Thailand, Ryan has recently returned home for the holidays.
Last month a video on Twitter showed Ryan strapped into a harness with physiotherapists slowly helping him walk with a walker type of apparatus.
Ryan was excited with his progress. He stated:
It was incredible. I mean the last time I walked beside my dad was before the accident and before I moved away. So doing that again and just seeing the look in his eyes is motivating to me.
In another video posted to social media in early December 2019, Ryan was shown being able to move his left leg as he kicked a large, yellow ball.
Tom Straschnitzki (“Tom”), Ryan’s father, stated:
Every day was a big surprise on what he could do. When he first kicked his leg there, it just brought me back to the day the boys walked on the bus, kind of flashed back to that. Didn’t know they were actually going to make him walk a couple days after that. It’s a start.
Ryan spoke about his experience in Thailand, stating:
The doctors and facility was amazing. I got treated with a lot of respect. I did a lot of physio and rehab and they did a really great job so I’m pretty grateful for that. … They turned on the stimulator in my spine, it moved my leg and obviously it shocked me. I didn’t necessarily feel it but it moved and I kind of had to work on that technique for the rest of the five weeks. It was tough work, usually pretty gassed after each day. A lot of work was put into it and just working on getting it better.
THE FUTURE OF SPINAL CORD RESEARCH IN CANADA
Although Ryan’s mother was unable to travel with her son to Thailand, she was excited to receive updates of his progress. Michelle believes that changes need to be made to the health care system in Canada. She stated:
North America is far behind. They need to kick start this now, not five years from now, not 10 years from now. Other people need these treatments and it shouldn’t be so prohibitive here. Frankly, its disgusting. Our Canadian system is not right.
Currently, the University of Alberta is conducting research involving mapping of the spinal cord, which is similar to the procedure that Ryan underwent in Thailand.
Although Tom is doubtful that there will be changes to Canada’s health care system, he and his wife will continue to lobby the government for improvements. Tom stated:
That study with U of A, it’s almost the exact same device. Thailand has reached out, why don’t they all work together? Let’s get positive and work together.
Ryan is hoping to make the Canadian sledge hockey team and compete in the Olympics. We will continue to follow Ryan’s progress, U of A’s research and whether any changes will be made to fund epidural stimulation in Canada and will provide updates in this blog.
In the meantime, if you or a loved one have suffered a spinal cord injury as a result of someone else’s negligence, the experienced personal injury lawyers at Cuming & Gillespie LLP can help evaluate your specific case to determine whether you have a valid claim. It is important that you call us promptly so we can help you understand your rights and the potential to recover compensation for your injuries. Contact our office online or at 403-571-0555 for a free consultation. We look forward to helping you obtain the compensation that you deserve.