Injured Jaguar improving
Things have changed quite a bit in the last month for the Kowal family.
In August, Mill Valley junior Michael Kowal decided he wanted to play football.
He went through the necessary steps to get signed up and after filling out a few forms he became a member of coach George Radell's football team.
But Michael's time on the team was short-lived.
During the Jags' second day of practice, Michael severely injured his neck during an accident at practice. Since then his parents, Pat and Patricia, have spent their nights in the hospital instead of the stands.
"This has changed everything entirely," Pat Kowal said Wednesday evening. "We have to restructure our lives around this and our goals are day to day. We don't have any long range plans."
What the Kowals do have is long-range hope.
Pat said Michael's condition has recently improved and he is now able to sleep through the night. He has also begun to understand what has happened.
Although the specifics of the accident are not fully known, the severity of the injury is.
A day after the injury occurred, Michael had surgery on his neck to stabilize the broken bones.
The injury caused spinal cord damage, but Pat said the doctors told him the neck and vertebrae continue to be structurally sound.
Reconstructive surgery on the third, fourth and fifth cervical vertebrae fused the bones together.
Although Michael has no movement from his shoulders down, the family is holding out hope that movement will return.
And with good reason.
Doctors told Pat that an injury as severe as Michael's usually leaves the victim breathing with a ventilator for some time.
Last week Michael began breathing on his own, something that inspired even more hope.
"It took a while for him to get out of critical care because he needed to establish that he could breathe on his own," Pat said. "Now that he has, we're looking forward to transferring to a rehab center and hopefully to getting some movement back.
"Now we're at the recovery stage."
Michael has spent the past three weeks at the KU Medical Center in Kansas City, Kan.
Sometime next week he will be transferred to Craig Hospital in Denver, where he will begin rehabilitation.
The Kowals are new to the area. Michael transferred to Mill Valley High School from Bishop Carrol in Wichita.
But just because they have not been in Shawnee long, does not mean the community has not been there for them.
Pat said he and his wife were very appreciative of the support the community has already provided.
"Right now we're thankful for any prayers and support for Michael," Pat said. "We're very grateful that the community has opened their hearts to us."
Julie Krause, of Sacred Heart Church, where the Kowals attend service, has worked closely with the family to establish a fund-raiser for Michael.
She said she knows the community will help out.
"You don't have to live somewhere a long time for the community to extend helping hands," Krause said. "This isn't about what has happened in the past but about how we can help make it easier in the future."
Pat and Patricia have started a special fund for Michael in order to help pay the medical costs.
The fund, dubbed the Michael Kowal Special Fund, is run through the Country Club Bank in Shawnee and is the first of many future fund-raisers that will be planned.
For more information on the fund or how you can help, contact Jan Wiley at the bank at (816) 751-4227 or leave checks in the night depository at the bank.
Watch the Dispatch for updates and more about Michael.