Injured Wrestler Ian Malesiewski Improving, Hopes to Return to PA Soon

Ian Malesiewski, a Cathedral Prep sophomore, continues to recover in a Cleveland hospital after suffering a spinal cord injury while competing in the Cadet Greco-Roman Nationals in Akron three weeks ago.

I spoke with his father, T.J., by phone on Thursday about his son’s condition, what lies ahead for him and how members of the wrestling community can help.

A double All-American at Fargo a year ago – a runner-up in freestyle and third-place finisher in Greco – Malesiewski was injured in a surprisingly simple scenario: a slip off a headlock attempt. T.J. said Ian attempted the headlock against Robert Heatherman of Maine in his first match of the tournament. The move was no different than what millions of freestyle and Greco wrestlers do every day, except that Ian went down awkwardly.

“Both of their weight came down. He landed on his forehead,” T.J. said. “Thank God the kid he was wrestling realized something went wrong and laid their motionless until the medical personnel could get there. If he had moved, the injury could have been critical. As bad as the injury was and has been, if he had been moved, it could have been way worse.”

As it was, Ian fractured his C4 and C5 vertebrae. The C4 injury is among the most severe of spinal cord injuries and can result in paralysis of the arms, hands, legs and trunk.

“You never really hear about it in the wrestling world. There are actually a lot more C4 and C5 injuries than you would realize,” T.J. said.

One of the biggest dangers comes from the fact that the C4 affects the body’s ability to control the diaphragm, and by extension, normal breathing.

After the injury, Ian underwent 8 hours of surgery in Akron and was put on a ventilator. He recently was transferred to University Hospitals in Cleveland and had an electric stimulator inserted on his diaphragm, which should help strengthen his lungs.

“Basically, if you don’t use your lungs, you lose them,” T.J. said.

Ian’s paralysis has further weakened his internal organs.

“He’s been horizontal for so long … he’s not physically strong enough to run his diaphragm right now,” his father said.

So far, Ian has had very little mobility below the chest.

“He has had some sensation down his legs and lower hands,” T.J. said. “As far as the brain and all that, he’s good to go.”

I asked his father how Ian has handled the mental ramifications of such a traumatic injury.

“His mindset is as good as it can be with this,” T.J. said. “He’s grasped it pretty well. He understands he has a long road of recovery ahead of him. The doctors have been great. The nursing staffs have been great. He’s a very smart 16-year-old, so he’s asking very good questions.”

According to John Dudley’s column in the Erie Times-News, Ian was re-elected vice president of his class on the day of his the injury.

So far, Ian has been unable to receive visitors, but T.J. expects that to change sometime after he is transferred to the Pittsburgh Children’s Institute, which should happen next week. Upon arrival in Pittsburgh, Ian will begin an intense rehabilitation program that consists of a minimum of nine hours per day on weekdays and five hours per day on the weekend.

“He wants to be a little bit farther down the road before he wants to address people,” his father said. “He’s a people-pleaser, he wants to give people their due time. We’re still keeping the visits to family members.”

While supporters haven’t been able to visit him in person, that hasn’t stopped them from reaching out to Ian.

“There have been a lot of people that have reached out to him, not only locally, but state- and nation-wide,” his father said. “There’s a lot of big-name wrestlers, nationally ranked guys, that have reached out to him. He’s got a lot of support. That’s what he needs now. He needs people to support him. The rest will happen over time.”

Those who wish to send Ian a message of support can reach him on Twitter @fiercekitty3. Bad Karma, Ian’s Greenville-based club, and Cathedral Prep have been active on Facebook in terms of updates on his condition as well as hashtags such as #PrayersForIan and #BeADog. The latter is in reference to a 2011 video of then-Coastal Carolina football coach David Bennett, who urged his players to “be a dog” instead of a “kitty cat.”

Cathedral Prep is accepting donations for the Ian Fund, which is raising money for him and his family. I’ve also been told that the Graham C. Parsons II Memorial Golf Tournament will donate proceeds to his family this year, and the “Be A Dog” benefit will be held Sept. 3 in North East, PA, to raise money for Ian’s medical expenses. The link for it provides info on how you can support the event even if you cannot attend.

Please send Ian a message or, if you are able, help support him and his family through the fundraiser. The strength of the wrestling community is truly amazing in times such as this.

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