Kardinals player on the mend: Dambacher returns home after injuring neck in football game

Posted: Monday, October 05, 2009

A Kenai Central junior varsity football player is back home and has full use of his arms and legs after breaking two vertebrae in his neck during a home game against Soldotna on Sept. 26.

Isaac Dambacher, a sophomore, was released from Anchorage's Providence Alaska Medical Center on Thursday. Dambacher cracked the fourth and fifth cervical vertebrae and had them fused together in a surgery on Sept. 26.

He must wear a halo for three months in order to let ligament damage between his second and third vertebrae heal. Heidi Dambacher, Isaac's stepmother, said Isaac's main problem right now is overly sensitive hands, which is common after a neck injury. Heidi said doctors told her that a lot of the time that symptom goes away with time.

"He has feeling everywhere," Heidi said. "He's walking and doing great."

In the first quarter of the game at Ed Hollier Field, the Kardinals were on offense when there was a fumble. Isaac, a wide receiver, dove to try to recover the ball and banged helmets with a Soldotna player.

Jim Beeson, Kenai's volunteer assistant and media liaison, said players are taught to always keep their heads up when blocking and tackling in order to avoid neck injuries. He said the injury happened on a freak play where Isaac was not blocking or tackling, but diving for the ball.

"It's the first time in my 22 years of doing this that I've been involved with anything like this," Beeson said.

Isaac said he lost consciousness for about four seconds, enough time that when he woke up, he saw everybody standing and looking down at him. He also said he had no feeling in his arms or legs.

"I couldn't move anything at first," he said.

Isaac, the Dambacher family and Beeson all gave credit and thanks to the medical personnel on hand for immobilizing Isaac and getting him in an ambulance to Central Peninsula Hospital in Soldotna. On the ambulance ride to the hospital, Isaac said he regained feeling in his arms and legs.

That return of feeling came with sharp pain in the arms, but Isaac didn't mind the pain.

"It was fine, because when I couldn't feel anything, I didn't think I'd be able to walk," he said.

At Central Peninsula Hospital, a magnetic resonance imaging test revealed the damage to Isaac's neck, so he was airlifted to Providence. Isaac's father, Steve, is an oil-field worker. He was across Cook Inlet when the accident happened, and beat his son to Anchorage by about 20 minutes.

Isaac arrived in Anchorage at 3 p.m., about four hours after the game had kicked off. Heidi arrived shortly later after taking a commercial airplane to Anchorage.

"I never completely lost it because he had feeling everywhere," she said. "I didn't know how bad it was."

In the midst of an MRI in Anchorage, doctors saw the severity of the injury. Heidi said a bone chip was causing swelling, and the swelling was just 1 millimeter away from paralyzing Isaac and cutting off his breathing. He was rushed into surgery.

Isaac said he lost track of what was happening when he got to Providence, because he was administered a lot of pain medication. He awoke on Sept. 27 -- his 16th birthday -- incredibly thirsty. The room had balloons, and nurses brought Isaac a birthday cake, but he said all he wanted was some apple juice.

"They didn't let me drink anything before the surgery," he said. "I was very dehydrated."

After a week and a half of rest, recovery and rehabilitation at the hospital, Isaac returned home. He said he was received a ton of support from the Kenai and Soldotna football programs, as well as students and staff at Kenai Central.

"I'm thankful for all the support," he said.

If doctors give the OK, Isaac will be back in school on Tuesday.

Doctors have told the Dambachers that Isaac can no longer participate in high-contact sports, such as football. Football is Isaac's favorite sport.

"I'm not too scared to play football, but I don't want to scare anybody," he said.

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