BY MARY SOLBERG | FAITHLIFE
Cathedral Prep junior Ian Malisiewski suffered a serious spinal cord injury while wrestling six months ago, but the people closest to him say his indomitable spirit has surfaced.
“I can count on one hand the really tough times he’s had, and mostly those were about missing a wrestling tournament or something,” says his mom, Hallie Reid. “Every morning, he gets up and says, ‘OK, let’s go to work. Let’s do this.’ He never complains.”
That determination has carried 16-year-old Ian through surgery and several months of intense physical therapy. He fractured two vertebrae and injured his spinal cord June 3 while competing in the United World Wrestling (UWW) Cadet Greco-Roman Nationals in Akron, Ohio.
Paralyzed from the neck down immediately after his accident, Ian has regained some movement in his arms, shoulders and hands. According to his dad, T.J. Malisiewski, doctors probably will not have a clear prognosis until swelling is reduced completely in his son’s spinal column.
“We’re not giving up hope. His prognosis is above what they thought. He wants to keep moving forward in life and he doesn’t want this to hold him back,” T.J. Malisiewski says.
On Nov. 7, Ian returned to Cathedral Prep, cheered on by his classmates, faculty and staff as he wheeled through the first floor to his classroom. Students like Tommy Russo and Garrett Heidt, both juniors, held signs: “Ian Strong,” and “#BeADog,” a reference to a 2011 video of then-Coastal Carolina football coach David Bennett, who advised players to “be a dog” instead of a “kitty cat.”
“It’s his [Ian’s] mentality. It’s how he operates,” Heidt says. “He hasn’t changed one bit. He’s the same Ian who we’ve always known, just full of life. He’s always making us laugh and making us smile.”
His first friend at Prep, Ethan Rys, also was on-hand for Ian’s first day back at school. They caught up with each other in the classroom that has been converted from the school spirit store to one that can accommodate Ian’s new specially made computer.
“There’s no one like Ian,” Rys says. “He’s crazy energetic. It’s been a hard time, but it’s been inspiring, too, just to see the outpouring from the community.”
The night of the accident, hundreds of people gathered at St. Jude the Apostle Church in Erie. They held an impromptu prayer service while awaiting news on Ian’s eight-hour surgery at Akron Children’s Hospital.
The Catholic Preparatory School community, which includes Prep and Villa Maria Academy, set up the “Ian Fund,” requesting donations to assist the family through Ian’s rehabilitation and recovery.(Make donations at http://www.prep-villa.com or checks can be made payable to Cathedral Prep and sent to Cathedral Prep’s Advancement Office, 225 W. 9th St., Erie, PA 16501, with “Ian Fund” in the memo line.)
In September, another benefit was held at Gravel Pit Park in North East.
“I learned that prayers work,” Ian says. “I had a lot of prayers said for me, not only from my class, but everybody in Erie. They just helped pull me through this emotionally and physically.”
Father Jason Feigh, campus minister, has met with Ian weekly since his accident. They do independent study for confirmation preparation.
“His return was an early Thanksgiving and Christmas present to the Prep community,” Father Jason says. “It shows hope amidst tragedy.”
According to Father Jason, Ian’s “big heart”—in the face of such difficulty—has brought everyone together. Even before the accident, Ian was active at Prep, participating in football and wrestling, Campus Ministry and Key Club. This year, he is serving as class vice president.
“He continues to inspire people in ways he has no idea of,” Father Jason adds. “He is not only a witness of how to carry himself personally, but spiritually.”
Since his return to school, Ian attends classes in the morning and then eats lunch with friends. He then goes to physical therapy for the rest of the day.
And, of course, he and his family depend on prayers.
Says his mom, Hallie: “People say how much they’re sending prayers. I’ll take anything. It makes him feel better to know that people care and that they love him.”