On October 7, in practice only days before the opening of the season, University of Alaska Fairbanks sophomore defenseman Erik Drygas fell head first into the boards when he caught a skate edge during a drill and severely fractured his fifth cervical vertebra. Two days later he underwent successful surgery to stabilize his neck and he remains in the intensive care unit in Fairbanks Memorial Hospital.
Fortunately, his spinal cord is intact although he has only very limited feeling and movement in his upper body and none in his lower extremities. It is uncertain whether he will regain any increased movement. He is expected to be transported to a spinal rehabilitation clinic in the next week.
Those are the facts of this story, but if you were with us in Fairbanks you would see the impact this has had on everyone in the community. When Travis Roy was injured last year, many people here were affected and rallied to help him out. It was a terrible accident and we cared, but now it has happened to us too.
Erik is not just a Nanook hockey player to us. He is also from our hometown. His parents, Mark and Kathy, are long time residents of Fairbanks. Erik grew up here and learned to play hockey here. He played youth hockey here and at Lathrop High School. He was even a Nanook stick boy when the university program was in its infancy. He had to leave home to play junior hockey, but he chose to come back and play for the Nanooks.
He scored his only collegiate goal so far, in his very first game and on home ice too. He and his teammates from Fairbanks help children here dare not just to dream about things that a generation earlier we considered impossible.
In the last few days many people throughout the community have begun the task of helping Erik and his family in this very difficult situation. We were glad to hear that Erik’s medical expenses will be paid, but they will exhaust the Drygas’ insurance, and then the university’s coverage on him, before being paid by catastrophic coverage maintained by the NCAA for the student-athletes.
There are however going to be extensive needs for Erik and his family that will not be paid. He will be rehabilitating a long way from Fairbanks. His family will need help with their transportation costs. Even to talk to Erik on a regular basis will be expensive. His parents will certainly miss time from work. When he comes home, they may need to make special modifications to his housing and for transportation.
Even if Erik makes a full recovery, the non-medical expenses during the next year will be very great for the Drygas family. We try not to think of the worse possibilities, but we know what they are.
In order to help Erik and his family, we have established the Erik Drygas Fund and this weekend has been declared Erik Drygas Weekend while the University of Alaska Fairbanks hosts Miami University in the CCHA openers for both teams at the Carlson Center. Most of the activities this weekend will be centered around raising funds for the Drygas family and recognizing what Erik has meant to people and symbolizes in the community.
This will be just the beginning of at least a full season of activities planned by the UAF Face Off Club, the University of Alaska Fairbanks, the Alaska Gold Kings professional hockey team, the Carlson Center, the Fairbanks Amateur Hockey Association, local service clubs, AM 970 radio, and many, many other groups and individual members of the Fairbanks community.
Erik means something to us that is hard to explain and we are going to help him out. There isn’t really any other choice. He and his family need us right now and what has happened to him has happened in some small way to every one of us. In a community that is sometimes polarized by issues that now seem so trivial, that is something we are coming together on. When Erik comes home — and we will be waiting for that — I sincerely hope we remember what we are doing now.
Please letters or cards of encouragement and best wishes for Erik Drygas to the following address:
c/o UAF Face Off Club
P.O. Box 81043
Fairbanks, AK 99708
Donations or contributions should be designated for the Erik Drygas Fund and may be sent to UAF Face Off Club at the above address or to:
The Erik Drygas Fund
Denali State Bank
119 North Cushman
P.O. Box 74568
Fairbanks, AK 99701