In an instant, Peter Baergen Warkentin’s life changed forever.
The Winnipeg man was playing recreational hockey on Sept. 30, when he sped down the ice on a two-on-one. He and the goaltender accidentally collided, which sent Peter head-first into the boards.
The 30-year-old felt his neck bend back. Immediately, he knew something was seriously wrong. His first thought was he’d broken his neck or his back.
He was rushed to hospital, accompanied by a teammate and friend, who called his brother David.
"He let me know by the looks of things, something was wrong, that there was some loss of sensation. It was a bit surreal," said David, 28.
Soon after arriving at the hospital, David was able to visit his brother. It didn’t take long for the extent of Peter’s injuries to become clear. He was paralyzed from the middle of his chest down and would never walk again.
Three vertebrae were fractured, one of which slipped and compressed the spinal cord, resulting in permanent damage. He broke at least one rib, which lacerated his lung. His wrist was also fractured.
"The remarkable thing was, Peter was tremendously level-headed and calm. The one nurse said she’s been working the emergency room for eight years and she’s never seen anyone so calm about everything this could mean," his brother said.
Friends and family have been rallying to support him. A fundraiser was held at the Good Will Social Club on Nov. 3, and another is scheduled for Nov. 25 at the Marlborough Hotel.
An online fundraising effort at youcaring.com has raised more than $55,000 to help him deal with the financial costs he’ll face after he’s discharged.
"He kind of merits this type of a response. It’s obviously overwhelming, but the community is good because Peter is also good. That’s been a really nice thing to fall back on. The support has happened for a reason, and that’s because of who Peter is," David said.
Jen Glenwright, a friend of Peter’s for 10 years and a co-organizer of the upcoming fundraiser, echoed David’s sentiment.
"His mother actually told me that ‘Peter’ means rock. I think that Pete is a lot of people’s rock. He was always there for me. He was my rock. So I’m completely dedicated to helping him navigate whatever is coming up," Glenwright said.
"I hope I can be a fraction of the rock he has been for me. He’s one of the most amazing people I’ve been fortunate enough to meet. There are few people I have the same respect for."
People close to Peter highlight his ability to keep a positive attitude throughout this process — focusing not on what’s been taken away, but the good things that remain in his life.
In a social media group dedicated to his recovery, one individual reported visiting Peter in the hospital, where he said: "Life is not about legs and mobility. It’s about love and relationships."
Following his initial surgery, Peter has been doing physiotherapy as he begins his long road to recovery, while friends and family keep him company with routine hospital visits.
Back on Sept. 30, when Peter’s friend called his brother from the ambulance, something he said sticks out in David’s mind.
"He said to me, ‘We’ve got loss of sensation, but Pete’s still Pete.’ We’ll take that for what it’s worth, and so here we are. I think that’s worth quite a lot," David said.