A Michigan priest who was paralyzed in an ice hockey accident has made an astounding recovery after seeing his community rally to support him in what he says is proof miracles can occur.
On Nov. 25, 2017, Father Dimitrie Vincent was playing in a morning hockey game when he was hit with a body check that would change his life forever.
In all his years playing hockey, Father Dimitrie had never experienced anything like it, especially in the over-60 league.
"I was going to play the puck and I ended up getting slammed and pinned into the boards face first," the Michigan priest-in-charge at St. Thomas Orthodox Church in Farmington Hills told InsideEdition.com.
The momentum and positioning created a perfect storm of conditions.
"My vertebrae snapped back with such force that it cracked," Father Dimitrie said. "I dropped to the ice immediately."
His C5, C6 and C7 vertebrae were crushed and left Father Dimitrie, 66, paralyzed from the neck down.
"I knew the damage was bad at the rink," he recalled. "At the hospital, the pain started to come and it was excruciating. The surgeon came in and told me I needed surgery. I said, 'When? Tomorrow? Next week?' He said, 'You needed it yesterday.'"
After several surgeries, Father Dimitrie began the arduous process of working his muscles in an effort to regain as much feeling as possible, first at the hospital and then at the Rehabilitation Institute of Michigan.
"When I came in, I was completely unable to do anything for myself," he said. "In life, when you’re young, you think you’re invincible. Even when you’re older, you kind of forget your chronological age; you think you can do more. I couldn’t care for myself. I couldn’t feed myself and I couldn’t dress myself. It was humbling.”
With some firm but supportive pushing, Father Dimitrie reached milestones in an impressive period of time, and on Feb. 9, he returned home.
"By the time I left I was able to walk and I was able to do things that, in fact even the staff commented that it was quite an impressive recovery, but they really did work me very hard," he said.
Nearly four months after the accident, Father Dimitrie has recovered 30 percent of the feeling in his right hand and 60 percent in his left, and is continuing to work on his balance in physical therapy.
"I’m told even though I get impatient that I’m moving at a pretty good pace and I just have to keep going," he said.
Periods of frustration have come up, but Father Dimitrie said he has not grown bitter, instead choosing to look at the experience as an opportunity to deepen his faith.
He especially took comfort in the support and encouragement he received from medical professionals, fellow clergymen, parishioners and friends in and outside of the hockey community.
"That kind of support, that kind of love, makes a huge difference in recovery," he said. "It became self-evident the gospel stories of healing, the good Samaritan, was being lived out. I was living the gospel through the care and compassion and the people around me who were not just talking the talk, but walking the walk.
“My faith was empowered and strengthened, I believe, spiritually, mentally, emotionally. I’m so grateful for that.
On March 24, Hockey Has Heart, an organization that financially helps hockey players in times of need, will hold a fundraiser for Father Dimitrie at St. George Romanian Cultural Center in Southfield, Mich.
All proceeds will go toward his continued recovery.
"I don’t have insurance other than Medicare, and when Medicare says it's time to go, it's time to go, so the reality is, it’s not cheap to go through PT and TO, and [the] different kinds of therapy to recover my loss of my dexterity in my limbs.”
Father Dimitrie said the fundraiser is another example of the abundance of generosity he’s been met with, noting: “If God is love, God works through these loving actions and I would absolutely [say] it was a miracle that things have happened as they did."