Yoichi Tomita describes Andrew Donnellan as one of the most “powerful” gymnasts he has ever coached.
And that muscular build, Tomita said, might help the Salpointe Catholic High School junior recover from a spinal cord injury suffered during a routine flip Friday that left him paralyzed from the neck down.
Donnellan, 16, had surgery Wednesday to fuse four Vertebrae and is awaiting insurance clearance to enter Craig Hospital, one of the nation’s top Rehabilitation centers near Denver. He is listed in serious condition at University Medical Center.
“The surgery was a complete success,” Tomita said. “Luckily, his muscles are so strong, he doesn’t need a ‘halo’ brace to stabilize his neck. He’s a very powerful man.”
The injury occurred when Donnellan was preforming a single front flip at the midtown location of Gymnastics World, 201 E. Fort Lowell Road, run by Tomita.
“I was right there with him. It was an ordinary routine, and he overrotated and landed on his head,” Tomita said. “It was a move he has done every single day for the last eight years.”
Gymnasts often misjudge flips in practice, said Tomita, who called the chances of severe injury during such a routine as “one in a million.”
Tomita, a former U.S. Olympic coach, has seen the same type of injury only one other time, in 1994, when Kerry Huston landed on his head during a parallel bars dismount at a U.S. national meet in Colorado Springs, Colo.
Huston, a former University of Minnesota standout, was paralyzed for two weeks but eventually walked and “now has a normal life,” Tomita said.
“I talked to Kerry’s mom, and she encouraged all of us to not give up.”
Students at Salpointe are praying and writing get-well cards for Donnellan, who recently competed at the USA Junior Olympic Championships in Battle Creek, Mich.
“Andrew has a real champion spirit about him,” said Mike Urbanski, the head guidance counselor at Salpointe. “He always thinks about other people before himself.”
By MIKE CHESNICK