Newcastle Knights forward Alex McKinnon has woken to news from doctors that his life may never be the same. But those closest to the inspirational 22-year-old are hopeful his condition will eventually improve as he recovers from surgery and starts to receive intensive treatment.
Neither his family nor the club would be drawn by television reports last night that his spinal injuries may have left him a quadriplegic. ‘‘Alex is in the first phase of his recovery and we all hope his progress continues,’’ Knights chief executive Matthew Gidley said on Monday night.
Alex McKinnon training with the Knights this month. Photo: Darren Pateman
McKinnon had been placed in a coma after breaking two vertebrae in a tackle against the Storm in Melbourne eight days ago. Reports suggest it will be a battle for him to walk again, although club officials say it is too early to make an accurate diagnosis. Having had ventilation removed on Sunday, McKinnon has been able to communicate with his family for the first time since his accident.
On Monday, McKinnon was visited by coach Wayne Bennett at the Alfred Hospital in Melbourne, according to the Nine Network. His parents continue to keep a bedside vigil while McKinnon’s girlfriend, Teigan Power, has reportedly returned to Newcastle. Nine’s reporter Neil Breen announced second-rower has been told he is a quadriplegic.
Quadriplegia is a condition of paralysis in which a person loses complete or partial use of all limbs and the torso.
Heavy impact: Newcastle's Alex McKinnon as he suffers the neck injury. Photo: Fox Sports
The definition itself doesn’t mean someone won’t improve with treatment or time.
The rugby league family and wider Hunter community is praying for McKinnon and his loved ones. ‘‘All our updates in relation to Alex are guided by his family and doctors only,’’ Gidley added.
Nine reported that McKinnon had begun intensive physiotherapy and mentioned that his condition could improve. ‘‘McKinnon and his family have been told he is a quadriplegic,’’ Breen said in his report.
‘‘Years of rehab and care will hopefully improve things, as his spinal cord is not severed.’’
McKinnon’s first words to his parents were apparently: ‘‘Can I have a lemonade? I’m dry’’.
McKinnon was not allowed to swallow the soft drink, so the lemonade was dabbed on his lips. The next morning after the match McKinnon underwent emergency surgery, which consisted of a disc removal at his C4 and C5 vertebrae and anterior fusion, where a bone graft or metal is used to hold the vertebrae together.
McKinnon also reportedly had surgery on Thursday night to insert a steel plate and a bone graft from his hip over the damaged vertebrae to protect the spinal cord. The Knights last week launched a #RiseForAlex campaign through social media.
On Sunday, more than 18,000 people flocked into Hunter Stadium to show their support for the ‘‘young lad from Aberdeen’’ when the Knights faced the Sharks. The team played strongly in his honour, scoring an emotional 30-0 win over Cronulla and Bennett admitted he was close to tears in the pre-game huddle. McKinnon’s family have thanked the club, community and media for their support.
Absolutely heart breaking hearing the news about Alex McKinnon. Really puts things in perspective. Feel for him, his family and loved ones— Keith Galloway (@kgalloway85) March 31, 2014
Devastating news about Alex McKinnon. Our thoughts and prayers are with you during this time.— Michael Clarke (@MClarke23) March 31, 2014
Extremely tough turn for Alex McKinnon. Grateful he's still here. Life will never be the same for him, but he will be the same great human!— Kurt Fearnley (@kurtfearnley) March 31, 2014