Doug Smith Shattered Neck

by Doug Smith
(Ottawa, Ontario Canada)

6th Cervical Vertabrae

6th Cervical Vertabrae

Hockey The Most Dangerous Game in the World.

From 2nd in the world at 18 to paralysis and back again.

The awesome crack of a lightning bolt directly overhead and my body collapses with my head resting on my gloves. My neck has just been broken in over 100 places and I have torn all of the ligaments in the back of my neck. I should be dead like the bird that hits a window in full flight. My eyes open but for a few seconds I can’t see. I hear the familiar sounds of the rink but where am I and what has happened to me?

It was a ‘dump and chase’ play not unlike the thousands of dump and chase plays over 20 seasons of hockey games. Chasing the puck down, taking the defenseman out just like I have done a thousand times before. This time would be the last time I played the body; the last time I would close in for the hit.

The timing was perfect; after taking off at the centre ice line I was skating full speed up the middle so I could meet the defenseman going around the net. Just missing the goal post with my left shoulder I was balanced for the impact. As I shifting to the left and looked down for the puck the defensemen falls and like sliding into 3rd base his body catches me at the hips less just 4 feet (1 metre) from the boards and cantilevers my body at 40km per hour.

No time to brace myself with my arms…to much speed...then crunch and flash as the top of the head pile drives into the top 2 X 6 of the end boards. Like a cookie being struck by a hammer my 5th and 6th cervical vertabrae shatter.

What am I going to do now? How am I going to cope? What is my wife Patti going to do? How is she going to feel about me? “Help…help…I need help, I have broken my back.”

Focus, focus…then the overwhelming feelings, the tears. Something bad has happened to my family, so bad we can’t possibly understand it.

Overwhelming emotion screams through every
cell in my body. It is that unfamiliar emotion that is impossible to measure as the physical impact starts an emotional chain reaction through me to my immediate family, to extended family and to everyone who knows me. As I lay there in the darkness and the pain, the emotion is overwhelming. It is like my eyelids are opening and closing in slow motion. Each time they open it was like a picture, frozen in my mind.

I have been injured many times in my life but nothing like shattering the spine, nothing like touching the spinal cord. Only a select group of people find themselves in this position and live to talk about it.

I have found refuge over the years speaking with people who can relate; people who have broken the core. This has been an extremely important part of my recovery.

It will be 13 years, 9 months before I would skate again. The journey of a spinal cord injury recipient is like no other rehabilitation story. They are all unique to the individual who has suffered the injury and your success is determined by hundreds of factors that are, for the most part, overlooked by the medical community.

Not because they want to overlook the factors but because it is not their mandate to take the time to understand the uniqueness of each injury and each individual. The answers are there, it is up to the patient, and his or her support team, to ask the right questions.

I am an expert on what questions to ask in this situation and I would be happy to help. I live in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada and if you need to find me; I am accessible.

My core passions are
#1 helping people with mobility disability as close to the time of injury as possible
#2 Helping individuals through the pain and confusion of transition.

Thank-you to the developers of for this website for the opportunity to share a little of my story in hopes that it may help another.

No matter what your injury is, it could be worse. Stay focused, think positively, set goals and visualize your success.

Take care,

Doug Smith

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