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Paralyzed during hockey game, Jack Jablonski says wiggling toes was 'quite surreal'

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Jack Jablonski
Jack Jablonski, a Benilde-St. Margaret's hockey player who was paralyzed after a spinal cord injury during a 2011 game, greets a friend during a hockey clinic July 26, 2012, at the St. Louis Park Recreation Center.
Jennifer Simonson | MPR News 2012

Well-wishes have been pouring in for Jack Jablonski since Monday, when he posted a video on Twitter of his toes wiggling, ever so slightly. 

That's because Jablonski has been paralyzed since being hit into the boards during a high school hockey game in 2011, when he was a sophomore at Benilde-St. Margaret's. 

Jablonski took the video on the Fourth of July at his family's home in Minneapolis. As of Thursday morning, it had been viewed nearly 400,000 times.

He said when he took the video, he was alone on the deck with his feet up to alleviate swelling when he decided to try moving his toes, something he'd tried to do in the past. Not much happened with his left foot, so he concentrated on his right one. 

"All of a sudden on command, as I was trying to flex the toes down, the right outside three toes were moving down and wiggling and twitching on my command," he said. 

"It was obviously quite surreal at the time, because it's something that the doctors have obviously told me that I never will be able to do. It just shows that the hard work is paying off in therapy, and mentally as well."

Since his injury, Jablonski, now a student at the University of Southern California, has been adamant about finding a way to regain use of his limbs. Doctors had initially told him his spinal cord was irreversibly severed, but wiggling his toes on command is only Jablonski's latest victory.

He said he's already been able to activate muscles in his lower body, like his hamstrings and hip flexors. Now, he's working on regaining some movement in his fingers, too. 

"A lot of what I do in physical therapy is through the mind-body connection," he said. "And that goes in hand with what we saw in the toes lately, just because when I'm doing an activity and I can't move, such as when I'm on the treadmill walking — you know, I'll have multiple people holding up my body. I have a harness on. But I have those two people, one on each leg, moving my legs. And as they're doing that, obviously I can't physically do it, but I can mentally try to."

More than six years after his injury, Jablonski said he spends around 3.5 hours a day in physical therapy, three days per week. That gets pared down a bit during the school year, when he's squeezing therapy in between classes and an internship with the L.A. Kings hockey team — he still loves the sport. 

Jablonski also has a foundation, the Jack Jablonski BEL13VE in Miracles Foundation, that raises money for spinal cord injury research. Right now, it's supporting a Mayo Clinic study into epidural stimulation, a treatment which uses a small implant to electrically stimulate the spinal cord. Jablonski is hopeful about its prospects.

"It's one of those things where we've seen the people that have been implanted so far be able to take step-like motions when they had none of it prior," Jablonski said. "So it's a great hope [for] the future and what's to come."