Guilmette undergoes back surgery

Jonathan Guilmette underwent back surgery on Thursday morning in a Swedish hospital to repair a fractured vertebra suffered during last weekend’s World Short Track Speed Skating Championships in Gothenburg, Sweden.

The surgery was necessary to repair an unstable compression fracture of the 11th vertebrae suffered during the 1,000-metre final.

The surgery consisted of the insertion of screws and rods to repair and stabilize the fractured vertebra. The instrumentation extended from the 10th to the 12th vertebral body in order to provide solid fixation to protect the unstable 11th segment and to avoid spinal cord injury.

The operation lasted approximately three hours and doctors report he is neurologically intact with no sign of paralysis.

“The operation went well and Jonathan is resting comfortably,” said national team coach Guy Thibault who stayed to help Guilmette.

The Swedish surgeons have told Guilmette there is a very good prognosis for recovery and that he could return to skating in about three months.

Early X-rays including a CT scan had failed to demonstrate any associated ligament injury. This was detected with a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan on Wednesday, March 24.

“In view of the fact there was a ligament tear associated with the fracture it was not felt that Jonathan had a stable enough situation with a spinal brace to allow safe transfer back to Canada,” said Dr. John McCall, the team’s doctor.

Surgical stabilization of the spinal cord was therefore advised which will allow him to return to Canada in about one week after surgery; otherwise he might have had to stay in Sweden for 4-6 weeks before it would have been safe for him to be transported home.

Barring any complications, Jonathan should be walking about by Sunday or Monday.

When doctors informed Guilmette on Wednesday afternoon that he would not be able to leave and that surgery would be required it came as somewhat of a shock.

“It was tough news for Jonathan to take”, said Thibault.

“He’s in good spirits. He realizes that feeling sorry for himself will not help in his recovery and it won’t change his situation. The operation is something that needed to be done.”

Guilmette’s mother flew to Sweden Wednesday night and is scheduled to arrive on Thursday.

The 25-year-old double Olympic medallist from 2002 was injured in the 1,000-metre final when he tried to take the lead coming into a curve before the last lap. Guilmette and Seung-Jae Lee of South Korea, the skater he was trying to pass, both went down. Guilmette crashed first into the boards and the Korean then slid into Guilmette.

Lee was disqualified from the race as well as the remainder of the competition.