The Newcastle Knights have condemned a television report that claimed Alex McKinnon has been diagnosed as quadriplegic, saying it’s still too early to ascertain how much movement he will regain.
The NRL club released on a statement on Tuesday saying uncertainty remained about the extent of the young second rower’s recovery from the serious spinal injury suffered in a tackle last Monday and there had been no new developments.
“While Alex’s condition continues to improve, his body is in the first phase of recovery,” it said.
“As previously shared, he has movement in his right arm and the uncertainty remains in the extent of further recovery.
“The doctors explained any regeneration and recovery could be up to two years.
One of the most important factors for Alex at this time is hope, which was jeopardised by this report.
“The club is extremely disappointed in the sensationalised television news story on Monday night about this tragic situation.
“One of the most important factors for Alex at this time is hope, which was jeopardised by this report.”
The 22-year-old was brought out of an induced coma following surgery last Tuesday and has been conscious since.
He began communicating with his family on Sunday after his assisted ventilation was removed.
With McKinnon is still in a serious but stable condition, visits have been restricted – meaning only coach Wayne Bennett and not his Newcastle teammates were able to visit him on Monday.
The club said it planned to continue to provide factual updates in consultation with the player’s family during this delicate time.
In a joint statement, McKinnon’s parents Kate and Scott, as well as his partner Teigan Power, thanked the public and media for their ongoing support and concern.
“While there is a lot of detail being reported about Alex’s condition, it is important to remember that it is still early days for him post-injury,” the family said in a statement.
“Those close to Alex know he is strong, and that he is a fighter and, that alone, is reason to remain hopeful.”
Injuries consistent with quadriplegia: Larkins
However, a leading sports physician says McKinnon’s injuries are consistent with quadriplegia.
Dr Peter Larkins is a former president of Sports Medicine Australia and says he is advising the medical team working with McKinnon, who is now talking and breathing on his own.
The 22-year-old was stretchered from the field after being tackled against the Storm a week ago and taken to a Melbourne hospital where he had emergency surgery.
Dr Larkins says McKinnon suffered a fracture dislocation of the C-4 and C-5 vertebrae which are the critical point in the centre of the neck.
“Which has caused him to have a really significant problem with spinal cord function below the C4 level, so that’s the level that’s often associated with people that have quadriplegia,” he said.
“And it’s really too early to determine the final outcome but at the present time the signs are not good for Alex.”
Dr Larkins says he cannot rule out that McKinnon will recover from his injuries, but at the moment he only has some slight movement.
And it’s really too early to determine the final outcome but at the present time the signs are not good for Alex.
“At the moment it doesn’t look great,” he said.
“He has very limited movement in one part of his right arm and that’s sort of encouraging in terms of some potential function in the future.”
Dr Larkins says McKinnon has had a number of scans over the past seven days and there has been little improvement.
“Obviously a quick recovery is ideal where you just get bruising of your spinal cord and literally a few days later things start to improve dramatically,” he said.
“I mean that’s not the case with Alex McKinnon, it’s not to stay that in two weeks time we won’t be having a conversation about the recovery improvements that he’s had.
“But at the present time I think we’ve got to be very conservative in making predictions.”
Calls for ban on lift tackles
Meanwhile, Sports Medicine Australia has called for a ban on lift tackles in all football codes following the injury to McKinnon.
SMA chief executive Nello Marino said, while McKinnon received top medical care, players below the elite level are not as fortunate.
He said the only way all sporting codes, not just rugby league, can sufficiently prevent such injuries is to outlaw tackles in which a player’s legs are lifted from the ground and their body inverted.
“While McKinnon’s case was a rare accident, it was one that could happen to a player taking to the field at any level,” Marino said in a statement on Tuesday.
The only way we are going to see less of these types of terrible accidents will be to make safety the priority when making rules or considering rule changes – a ban on the lift tackle reflects this.
“This tragic accident should not be seen as something that is par for the course in contact sports – gone are the days when a player would take to the field despite knowing there a significant risk of serious injury.
“The only way we are going to see less of these types of terrible accidents will be to make safety the priority when making rules or considering rule changes – a ban on the lift tackle reflects this.”
Dr Larkins said lift tackles placed players at huge risk of sustaining serious damage to their head and spine.
“We would strongly urge all elite and local football codes where tackles like this are used to consider banning them to prevent further tragic accidents like that of Alex McKinnon,” Dr Larkins added.