Beloved Sabres broadcaster and hockey legend Mike Robitaille was having a normal February afternoon, headed to work at the Sabres game that night. But at a red light on Genesee Street in Downtown Buffalo, life as he knew it came crashing down, or more literally crashing into the back of his car.
Robitaille was hit from behind and was driven into the car ahead of him. It was a relatively minor accident, with major consequences for the 62 year-old Robitaille.
"My nose was itchy, and I went to get my nose, which is pretty big to miss, and I couldn't get my hands up," Robitaille said. "And my legs, they weren't much better, and I went 'uh oh, I'm in trouble here.'"
He experienced numbness, temporary paralysis, and a shocking sensation through his chest caused by a compressed spinal cord in his lower neck and a cervical spine deformity. The day after the February 3rd accident, Robitaille met with Dr. Kevin Gibbons, one of the surgeons who operated on Buffalo Bill Kevin Everett after his paralyzing neck injury.
Dr. Gibbons said his bone was basically sitting on his spinal cord, and told Robitaille an operation was needed to relieve the pressure. Robitaille says he spent six long days in intensive care at Millard Fillmore Gates Circle Hospital after the operation, during which two long titanium rods and several screws were inserted, and vertebrae were cut.
Now five months after the surgery, his progress has been slow and steady, but not at all pain-free.
"It was rough," Robitaille said. "Look, being an athlete I know what pain is. I had to deal with it. But this was pretty severe."
Some days he couldn't get out of bed into a chair because the pain was so excruciating. He said depression took its toll, and the intense pain medicine caused him to hallucinate visits from everyone from Babe Ruth to Eleanor Roosevelt.
But he's making progress. While Robitaille has to wear a neck collar 80 percent of the time, his rehab is on schedule and the prognosis is good. He says he will "absolutely" be in the broadcast booth this fall when the Sabres begin their season. He's been an analyst for over 25 years and misses work, saying that his return will be a very happy day.
And though many days haven't been so happy in the past five months, Robitaille says the constant phone calls make him feel great - as well as the several shopping bags full of get well cards wife Isabel brought home one day.
"When she walked in with them I said I guess that kind of tells us why we moved here 35 years ago," he said. "She showed me this shopping bag full and it's true. There's your answer. That's why we're living in Buffalo."