Gent suffers serious neck injury
July 18, 2005
An Aspen Old Boys rugby player suffered a serious neck injury during a home match against Boulder Saturday at Wagner Park.
John Lassalette, an Aspen attorney, husband and father, lost all feeling below his neck after going in for a tackle during the first half Saturday morning, according to a Gentlemen of Aspen Rugby Football Club official. However, since the accident, Lassalett has regained significant feeling and movement throughout his body.
Lassalette, who is about 39, remained at Aspen Valley Hospital Monday. He is awaiting transfer to a specialized spinal cord injury center near Denver.
“He had no feeling straight after the accident,” longtime Gents player and coach Mark Williams said Monday afternoon. Williams visited with Lassalette, who has been unable to walk under his own power, at AVH earlier in the day. “But now he’s got feeling and movement everywhere, except for his wrists and hands.”
Lassalette’s prognosis, concerning the extent and permanence of his symptoms of paralysis, remained unclear Monday, Williams said. The injury occurred at the C-3 vertebrae in Lassalette’s neck. It did not appear to require surgery, Williams said, but rather rehabilitation.
“Medically speaking, they’re not 100 percent sure to say [the prognosis]. It’s a C-3 injury ” that’s where he did some damage, and that’s what’s so scary. The doctors are very happy with his progress, but obviously it’s very scary for him and his family and everyone involved.
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“He’s a tough customer, he’s a guy who’s gonna bounce back, hopefully.”
Lassalette’s injury comes less than 15 months after another Gents player, Patrick Culley, was paralyzed from the chest down during a match in Boston. Culley, who was 25 at the time, was immediately diagnosed with catastrophic injuries ” his spinal cord was crushed where the injury occurred in his neck, and he underwent emergency surgery to stabilize it.
Culley, who is living and rehabilitating in San Diego, e-mailed his best wishes to Lassalette and the team after learning the news, Williams said.
“These kinds of injuries are extremely unusual,” said Williams, a native of Wales and fixture on the Gents and the U.S. National Rugby Team. “I’ve only had it happen to someone on my club once, and that was with Patrick; and that’s 30-odd years of playing. And now back to back. It’s put a damper on everything.”
“But also,” Williams continued, “it has been fantastic to see John talking and smiling. That’s been very good to see.”
A Gents player for about five years, Lassalette has a wife and two daughters, Williams said. The family is in the process of moving from Basalt to Aspen.
Williams said Lassalette was in good spirits yesterday. “He wanted to thank all the ambulance workers and people who helped him, and the doctors and nurses,” Williams said.
The injury occurred during the first of three rugby matches at Wagner Park Saturday.
“John said he went into a tackle and basically felt something just happen. That’s when he lost the feeling,” said Williams.
Lassalette lay prone on the field for about 30 minutes while emergency responders attended to him. He was loaded on a stretcher and taken to AVH.
Meanwhile, the Aspen Old Boys went on to beat Boulder 50-12, and the Aspen A-side dispatched their Boulder counterparts by similar margin, 60-10. In Saturday’s finale, the over-33 U.S. National Team beat Canada 50-15.
“Right now we’re just trying to be as supportive as possible for John and his family,” said Williams. “Everyone was pretty down when it happened, but getting news that he’s making real progress has given everybody a boost. Plus, he’s got such a positive attitude that everyone’s feeding off that and praying for him to get better as soon as possible.”
Tim Mutrie’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org