ANN ARBOR, Mich. (WXYZ) - If there's a typical hospital room, Matt Sorisho's isn't it. The well wishes for the 17-year-old cover the walls, hockey jerseys, and a stick. And then there's the giant cardboard cutout of ESPN's Chris Berman, a friend brought that to make Matt laugh. He's a devout ESPN watcher.
Laughing isn't always easy these days though. I visited with Matt last Friday, just three weeks after his life was turned upside down.
The senior at Novi's Detroit Catholic Central High School was playing with a Michigan all star team October 4th when he was going full speed down the ice, took a shot, and a clean hit, lost balance and slammed into the boards. His mom and dad saw it happen.
"Did you know that something was seriously wrong from the beginning," I asked them.
"Immediately, I knew he broke his back," his dad Jim Sorisho said. "Immediately, he screamed 'my legs.' I was right there, I heard him scream 'I can't move my legs.' I knew how hard he hit the boards that his back was broken."
Matt was rushed to Botsford Hospital where an X-ray confirmed what they already knew, Matt had indeed broken his back, in two places. He was paralyzed from the waist down. And seven hours of surgery couldn't fully repair the damage.
"The doctor came in and Matt asked him square out, am I going to walk?" Matt's dad explains. "And he said no… Matt just wept."
A lifelong love for the game
Matt began playing hockey when he was 6 years old. He quickly became a star player, a strong competitor with the strong will that characterized his childhood. Crying, his mom told us how she knows that will serve Matt well now.
"From when you were so young, you were a fighter," she told him. "And you're going to fight now, and you're going to keep fighting for what you want. So if you want to go on and have a good life, then fight for it."
The fight for a new future
And that's exactly what Matt's doing, fighting hard each day in physical therapy at Mott Children's Hospital at U of M. He's working to regain his upper body balance and strength. But even before he was well enough to begin therapy, Matt was fighting for that future. He had plans to play next year in the Junior Hockey League, before eventually playing for a college team. With those dreams dashed, he wasted no time.
"The first thought that came to his mind was now, I'm going to college, now I'm moving on, and that's my new focus and he needed to switch a couple courses up," his mom explains.
Matt was too tired and hurting from his therapy to do an on-camera interview, but he told me his goal is to work as hard as he can to get out of the hospital and back home, to school and to his hockey team. He may not be able to play, but he wants to be there for them… as they are for him in the hospital. He has visitors virtually every day.
Domenic Mancinelli says while Matt may be hurt, he comes "just to see the same old Matt. Cuz that's who he is," he says. "The last time I was here, that's who I saw and it was great!
Support surrounds Matt everywhere in his hospital room. There's a banner that hangs across from his bed, signed by everyone at Catholic Central, no stranger to tragedy. There's a signed Red Wings jersey hand delivered by coach Mike Babcock. His son has played with Matt. Phoenix Coyote player and Catholic Central Alum David Moss brought Matt a signed hockey stick, and the coaching staff from the San Jose Sharks visited Matt when they were in town playing the Wings. Tweets have come in from around the NHL, sending prayers and wishing Matt well.
And at his house, the outpouring of support continues. Volunteers and businesses from the Catholic Central Community are expanding Matt's home, making it handicapped accessible and providing a first floor bedroom and bathroom for him.
A major fundraiser is being held Wednesday night, November 20, from 6 to 10 pm at Compuware Arena in Plymouth. It's being called "A Benefit for Matt on Center Ice." The goal is to raise $500,000 to help Matt's family meet the expenses associated with a catastrophic injury like this.
"We're just overwhelmed by everybody's love, and prayers, their support," Debbie says. Family, friends, the hockey world, from all over the country, outside of the hockey world too, that's what gotten us through every day."
That and their strong Christian faith.
As Matt looks forward, he's hoping to be a Spartan next year… MSU's hockey coach visited him and said he's got a place for him on the team.
"He's still on a road, he's just on a different one," his dad told me. "His path turned a bit, but he's still going to be there. It's the same Matt, he's just going to get around differently."
"This is just his latest opponent," I said. "Exactly," said a proud, heartbroken mom.
How you can help
For more information on the November 20 "Benefit for Matt on Center Ice," click the link... ( MOBILE: http://bit.ly/1dlaLmp) ... or you can help the Sorisho family with the astronomical costs associated with a catastrophic injury like this, by making a donation at the Hockey Has Heart website.