Teen Perseveres to Walk Again after Tragic Skiing Accident
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January 27th, 2019, high school senior Ryan Kolonich was enjoying a day on the slopes with his ski club in Somerset, Pennsylvania. “I was the last one to go down of the friend group. And I remember going down. I was going a little too fast,” recalled Ryan.
Too fast for the small ski jump he went over. Ryan crashed hard. His next memory was waking up, stunned and surrounded by the ski patrol. Before long he was being loaded onto a helicopter headed toward the university of Pittsburgh Medical Center strapped to a backboard, unable to move.
"I was scared. I was panicked. It had really sunken in that I can't feel anything below my waist. I was just thinking, 'Am I ever going to walk again?' That was the only question on my mind."
Meanwhile, the trip chaperone had called Ryan’s parents. Jenn and Rick made the 2-hour drive to Pittsburgh from their home in Johnstown, Pennsylvania. Ryan’s mom, Jenn, recalled, “I was just terrified. I still didn't know what happened to him. I just wanted him to be alright.” By the time they arrived, other family members were already there. “He still had his head strapped down, the c-collar on and his arms and legs were strapped down. He just started crying as soon as he saw us,” said Jenn.
Ryan remembered the moment he saw his parents and family. “You could see the pain in her eyes. In my dad's, my uncle's, my grandpa's. You could see their fear. We prayed because that's all we thought we could do. Prayed and waited.”
Ryan’s dad, Rick, said, “I got overwhelmed with emotion. It's just awful seeing your kid in that state and that's when I started praying even harder. It was just constant prayer.”
An MRI revealed Ryan’s l1 vertebra had been shattered and bone shards were pinching his spinal cord. Immediately doctors scheduled him for surgery, saying even if it was successful, Ryan may never walk again.
“He's only 18. He shouldn't have to worry about these things, whether he's going to be able to function in life anymore,” Jenn worried.
At once the Kolonich’s reached out to everyone they could think of, asking for prayer. “I called my dad right away. I was crying like a baby. I was like, 'Ryan’s hurt so-so bad.' It was very difficult,” Rick said.
In the four-hour surgery, doctors successfully removed the bone shards and stabilized Ryan’s spinal cord using two rods and ten screws. It was then doctors began performing daily tests to determine if Ryan could feel any sensation in his legs and feet. They also asked him to wiggle his toes. For three days nothing happened, until finally, as Ryan recalled, “I was able to get my one toe to twitch.”
Jenn remembered the toe wiggle. “Seeing a little bit of movement. I was extremely happy.” Rick was overjoyed. “That was a good sign. It was amazing all these little blessings that you saw happening along his path to recovery.”
Even though Ryan continued to improve, it was slow. And his doctor couldn’t offer much hope. Ryan said, “I would ask him, 'Hey, am I ever going to walk again?' I remember him being like, "I can't promise you anything. I can't promise you're even going to stand again.' And then something sort of switched and I was like, 'I’m going to try. I'm going to give it my all.'"
At the end of February, two weeks after surgery, Ryan checked in at the hospital’s rehab facility. “I was praying, just talking to God,” said Ryan. Ryan worked hard over the next month, as each day brought small victories. He was eventually able to stand using the parallel bars.
Then, on his last day in the facility with his therapist urging him on, and his mom waiting at the end of the bars... “I’m trying, and I’m trying, and I’m trying, I can’t get… and then I just able to get it to like slide," recalled Ryan.
His mom recalled the moment, “He walked to me at the end of the parallel bars. Oh, he's crying. We were both just crying. We're so happy. He's like, 'I did it. I walked!'"
After going home, Ryan continued his daily physical therapy sessions. Now he had another goal: walk the stage at graduation under his own power. “I knew that, if God could get me to where I was, there was nothing that could stop me,” said Ryan.
Then at graduation on June 7th, 2019, the cheers of his family and the crowd pushing him on, Ryan walked across the stage on his own to accept his diploma.
“Just to see him be able to do that, accomplish a goal he had in mind and he did it all on his own - it was unbelievable,” said Rick. And Jenn emphasized, “I was so proud. He said he was going to do it, and then he did it.”
About that moment, walking for graduation, Ryan reflected, “It was just such a great moment!”
With the support of orthopedic braces, Ryan is still walking. Now attending college and making plans for his future, he’s taking every day one step at a time, knowing the Lord is always there, alongside him. “God listened. I wouldn't be here doing what I’m doing if it wasn't for him. Like, there's no way,” shared Ryan.
Thankful, Ryan's mom, Jenn said, “We’re just blessed that he is able to walk.”
Ryan’s dad, Rick, agreed, “Realizing the miracle, just able to walk period, was more than a blessing. Through prayer anything's possible.”
Ryan shared, “I have a constant reminder of what I’ve been through, and that reminder helps enforce how great God is.”
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