Injured hockey player Matt Olson tackled his rehabilitation at Mayo Clinic with the same focus that he had playing his sport, but he knew progress would come in smaller doses. Now, as he begins the next phase of his rehabilitation closer to his Isanti, Minnesota home, Olson remains determined and motivated to keep moving forward.
In February, Olson, 20, a standout at Totino-Grace High School in Fridley, Minnesota, was playing in a game for the Chicago Cougars junior hockey team when he lost an edge on his skates and hit the boards. He broke bones in his neck, and his spinal cord was pinched at the C-4 level. He is paralyzed below the shoulders, though he has some feeling in his biceps and forearm.
Olson initially underwent treatment and surgery at a Chicago area hospital. In April, he came to Mayo Clinic’s Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation unit for its spinal cord injury rehabilitation program.
Ronald Reeves, M.D., a spinal cord injury specialist with Mayo’s Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation department, said the treatment plan called for Olson to become increasingly mobile. He started by sitting up, then using the wheelchair to maneuver and tolerate more therapy. His therapies were designed to help him maintain his muscle strength and tone, and overall fitness.
Olson had three hours of physical and occupational therapy daily. He learned new ways to use his cell phone and tablet using special software. He said one of his favorite physical therapy activities was riding an electrical stimulation stationary bicycle. Electrodes on his legs transmitted electrical signals and stimulated his muscles to contract.
“He’s done a very good job with making progress in his rehabilitation program, learning to direct his care,” Dr. Reeves said. “Likely his experience as an athlete, his awareness of his body is what provided him the foundation to do so well at these things so quickly.”
Olson knows patience and perseverance come in handy with every task.
“It’s just going to take time,” he said. “It’s a slow process. I know that I’m going to get better. I just keep working on different things in therapy.”
Olson met with a rehabilitation psychologist to help him with the transition. His doctor said that he has a robust coping mechanism.
“He’s doing most of that work on his own,” Dr. Reeves said. “He’s really just adjusted remarkably well, better than we often see.”
Olson also has a close family and deep support system. His parents, Doug and Sue Olson, took turns staying with him, and preparing for the day their son eventually comes home.
“My mission is to help him do whatever he wants to do,” Doug Olson said. “…Try to help him lead as normal life as he can and do whatever he wants to do.”
The Olsons are grateful for support they’ve received from family, friends, strangers and organizations such as the Chicago Blackhawks, Minnesota Wild and Totino-Grace High School.
Olson left Mayo Thursday and will continue therapy at Courage Kenny Rehabilitation Institute in Golden Valley, Minnesota. The family is planning to build a house for him. He wants to go to college one day.
“I can still live my life the way I want to,” Olson said. “My life is different, but I can still do the things I want to do. I can do almost anything I set my mind to.”