‘He legitimately is a miracle’

Other stories on Kulig in order

Original Report: https://www.patriotledger.com/sports/20200112/quincy-hockey-player-recovering-after-on-ice-spinal-injury

Follow up: https://www.patriotledger.com/sports/20200116/hs-boys-hockey-north-quincy-getting-back-to-basics-after-kulig-injury

Returning to the team: https://www.patriotledger.com/sports/20200202/hs-boys-hockey-north-quincys-conor-kulig-back-home-and-with-his-teammates

AS SEEN ON: https://www.patriotledger.com/sports/20200124/he-legitimately-is-miracle

QUINCY — More than two weeks after suffering a spinal injury in a hockey game, North Quincy High senior Connor Kulig is now rehabbing at Spaulding Rehab Center in Boston.

Kulig is walking, feeding himself and brushing his teeth. He’s working on getting his balance back.

“The surgeon thought he would be able to pull a wheelchair and here he is walking,” said Connor’s mother, Dawn Kulig. “He legitimately is a miracle.”

The progress has come with one significant setback. After making his way to rehab last weekend, tragedy was avoided when Kulig fell in his bathroom. He had to be rushed back to the emergency room at Boston Children’s Hospital.

“It was very, very near catastrophic,” said Dawn Kulig. “It was a very worrisome situation because he had hit his head and lost consciousness. They were concerned that his neck broke again, and we were concerned that he had blood clots in his brain because he is on blood thinners and he hit his head twice. He was very, very lucky.”

The accident came after he was left unsupervised in the bathroom, which is something Dawn said has been addressed.

After a day at the ER, Connor was able to come back to Spaulding after doctors determined that the fall had not compromised his surgical procedure.

At rehab, Connor spends most of his days trying to get back that balance. He struggles with having to take things slowly after playing hockey for most his life.

“I went from playing hockey at least an hour every single day and playing two games a week to doing zero hours of exercise for like a week straight,” Connor said during a recent FaceTime chat from the rehab center. “Just walking for five minutes at a time (is what I do now). Going from playing hockey every single day to walking five minutes a day was God awful. It is no fun. Especially taking it slowly, which is what everyone tells me to do. I can’t really do that. I am used to going as fast and as hard as I can.”

Connor, who was not able to use his hands for a while, still hopes to attend Massachusetts Maritime Academy in Bourne in the fall to study marine engineering. He has been accepted into the school.

“One thousand percent I want to do that,” Connor said. “That is the goal — to get there.”

Connor got a great gift last Saturday night when North Quincy played its first game since his injury. He watched online as the Raiders fought back from a 2-0 deficit to tie Marshfield.

“It was honestly pretty incredible,” he said. “They played pretty amazing, being able to come together like that. I was stoked for them. I was pretty happy, to say the least.”

Since the injury, Dawn has stayed with Connor in the hospital or at the rehab center. She has never really been a fan of hockey despite her other sons, Colin and Garrett, also playing for NQ. Current coach Matt Gibbons took over the program just as Colin, now 26, was starting his high school career.

“Matt has been in my family since he started coaching,” said Dawn Kulig. “He has coached all three of my boys.”

Dawn, who admits she is not much of hockey mom, still has never missed a game in nearly 21 years.

“I grew up in household where my father told us not to play hockey or football because of the potential for this,” said Dawn. “I am in it for the flowers. On Senior Day when they graduate and give the flowers to the mom, that is my thing. Other than that I am not too fancy on hockey.”

On the night Connor was hurt — Jan. 8 against Scituate — she remembers telling herself that she really did not want to go. It was a cold night, and Hobomock Arena in Pembroke is especially frigid, she said. She went anyway because she told herself she couldn’t miss a game in case someone was to get hurt.

“I could see the kid skating up behind Connor and I could see it was going to be a damaging hit before it even happened,” Dawn said. “But I couldn’t stop it. … I knew just at the angle and how he hit him it was not going to be good.”

Since the injury, both Connor and Dawn mentioned how thankful they are for all the love and support. Boston Bruins player Charlie Coyle, who grew up in Weymouth, reached out to Connor through Twitter, and Connor said he was able to privately message Coyle on Instagram a few times.

Among others who have made contact: Former BU hockey player Travis Roy, who went through a similar injury, and Minnesota Wild strength and conditioning coach Sean Skahan, who grew up in Quincy. Boston College hockey coach Jerry York came to see Connor on Thursday, and Quincy Mayor Thomas Koch sent a get-well card.

“It’s pretty awesome, especially since I would never meet (a celebrity under normal circumstances) or anything like that,” Connor said. “They don’t even know me, and they are just reaching out like that.”

North Quincy has Kulig’s number 16 jersey hanging behind their bench, and all Patriot League teams are wearing “NQ 16” helmet stickers after Duxbury coach John Blake was able to secure a batch of them.

“Oh, my God. It is awesome,” Connor said of the outpouring of affection. “When this happened, I was like, ‘Oh, yeah, I know I will get some visitors and some cards.’ I never thought anything like this would ever happen. The stickers, all that stuff is unreal.”

Dawn said is not an exaggeration to say they have received 3,000 to 4,000 cards.

“Indescribable,” Dawn said of the support. “The words I would use to describe it are endless, to infinity. Everybody from Donovan Brothers (Automotive) to Ginger Betty’s, to the church, to the priest, to North Quincy High School, to the school nurse, the kids, the students, it is unending.”

Two weeks after the incident, both Connor and Dawn have learned a lot since he lay motionless at Hobomock with his mom by his side.

“Really how much friends and family really means,” said Connor. “Honest to God, without my friends and family I would not have gotten through this. Without anyone’s support, really.”

“I think it really woke you up to what is important in life and (how) all the little things really don’t matter,” Dawn said. ”(My two other sons) almost lost a brother; I almost lost a son, so it gave us huge pause and gratefulness and appreciation.

“Love is a very healing thing, I will tell you. It really made a difference.”

Matt Cunha can be reached at mcunha@patriotledger.com. You can follow him on Twitter @CunhaMatthew



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