Football gave Ryan Dueck many highlights -- but it also levied a crushing blow.
After too many collisions to count in full equipment as an amateur player, it was a pickup game in the snow that put Dueck, 28, in the hospital unable to move his head.
Now, four years later, the former University of Manitoba Bison and Winnipeg Rifles junior player has been living in pain and facing a devastating prognosis until he learned of a state-of-the-art treatment in Germany.
His neck and back mobility have markedly deteriorated and his pain has grown exponentially in the past 10 months. Without treatment, the prognosis is he will gradually lose the use of his arms and develop dropped head syndrome -- being unable to hold up his own head.
"I've never had a day without discomfort since the injury and lately it's gotten worse. I can feel it happening," said Dueck. He and his wife, Jennifer Toogood, celebrated their first wedding anniversary Monday.
Hope is on the horizon, but it's going to cost $40,000.
Artificial-disc replacement surgery is being performed at the ONZ clinic in Hattingen, Germany, one of the few places in the world where it is offered. A co-worker of Dueck's dad had a procedure there and no longer has back issues.
Dueck and Toogood had a consultation with the two neurosurgeons earlier this month, where they learned Dueck has permanent damage in the C4-C7 vertebrae. They booked surgery for Nov. 21.
"You go on living and doing what you can, but with the negative message about what's coming (if no action is taken), this is the first ray of hope I've had that I could have a normal, active lifestyle again," Dueck said. "I could maybe have kids and be able to hold my kids up. It's been an incredible blessing. It's also scary as well."
The C4 vertebra, which had fractured and healed improperly, would be replaced with a synthetic one and a two-level fuse. Flexible synthetic implants would replace two damaged discs (between C5/6 and C6/7). Hopefully, Dueck's mobility will be restored.
As the recreation director at Youth For Christ on King Street, Dueck works with hundreds of youth in sports, weight training and myriad other activities.
"To be able to see exactly what was going on with Ryan's spine was incredible," Toogood said. "As bad as that was, it was also hopeful because we could see he has an opportunity to live a pain-free life. There's a 90 per cent success rate with these types of surgeries."
Dueck knows exactly when the big impact happened. It was Feb. 1, 2009, when he and some buddies were throwing a football around in the snow.
"We were just playing around. It was just so stupid. It was the off-season, so we were being a bit reckless and playing a bit of contact," Dueck said.
He moved one way, a guy moved another way and he ran full-speed, head down, into another player. "I felt my neck pop twice and then I was on the ground," Dueck said. "I couldn't move my head, I couldn't feel my neck."
He was in a neck brace and in hospital for a few days while tests were run. He was told there didn't seem to be structural damage, he should stay away from contact sports and he should heal over time. Life went on, with daily pain and blinding headaches. He's had X-rays, MRIs and CT scans but wasn't able to find out what was wrong until now.
Friends and family are rallying around the young couple to raise needed funds through a website and a coffee and dessert fundraiser on Oct. 18 at 8 p.m. at the St. Norbert Community Centre. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for tickets. If you would like to donate, go to: www.youcaring.com/medical-fundraiser/ryan-s-c-spine-surgery/88086.