Brad Hornung, who was left a quadriplegic following a check in a WHL game almost 35 years ago, has been diagnosed with terminal cancer.
Hornung, who is to turn 53 on Feb. 13, went into hospital in Regina about three weeks ago, telling doctors that something wasn’t right. At the time, he thought he might have a touch of pneumonia. Instead, he was found to have cancer.
“Three weeks ago, he was fine,” Leanne Wright, Brad’s sister, told me Tuesday night. She said doctors found “small” cancer in the colon, adding that the bone cancer may well have been found a lot earlier if Brad hadn’t lost feeling below his neck when he was injured.
Leanne, who lives in Las Vegas, has joined Brad and their mother, Terry, in Regina. Leanne said that Brad has been reaching out to close friends in recent days.
On March 1, 1987, with his Regina Pats en route to a 6-3 victory over visiting Moose Jaw before 4,578 fans, Hornung crashed into the boards behind the Warriors’ net early in the second period. Hornung was prone on the ice being treated for about 40 minutes. He was given heart massage, and a tracheotomy because he had swallowed his tongue and needed help breathing.
The 18-year-old Hornung, then 5-foot-10 and 175 pounds, was in his second season with the Pats.
On March 3, 1987, Dr. Chris Ekong, a neurosurgeon at Regina General Hospital, told a news conference that Hornung had suffered a burst fracture of the third cervical vertebrae and a crushed spinal cord.
“Brad has no feelings in his arms and legs,” Dr. Ekong said. “He is completely paralyzed from the neck down. Every function below the spinal cord is intercepted.”
At the time, there was talk that Hornung might be bed-ridden for the remainder of his life. Instead, he has been wheelchair-bound, something that didn’t limit his involvement in hockey.
Eventually, Hornung was moved to the Wascana Rehabilitation Centre in Regina, where he has had his own room for more than 30 years. While he now is in the ICU at Pasqua Hospital in Regina, he soon will be going back to his room at Wascana Rehab for palliative care.
He frequently has attended Pats’ games, and also spent three seasons as an amateur scout with the Chicago Blackhawks. He later worked with NHL Central Scouting.
He also tended to his education, graduating from O’Neill High School, then earning a Bachelor of Arts degree in History from the University of Regina’s Campion College in 1996. He also took classes through the Faculty of Business Adminstration.
On June 8, 2018, the university presented him with an honorary Doctor of Laws degree. Hornung completed his acceptance speech with this:
“The bad news is that unpleasant things are going to happen to all of you at one time or another in your lives. Sadly, that is a fact.
“The good news, however, is that you have the strength within you to face these challenges in ways you cannot even imagine right now. Happily, that is also a fact. And it is the most important one to remember.
“Congratulations on your graduation, and please don’t ever forget — even in what may seem like your darkest hour, there is always a place in your life for hope.”
His father, Larry, was a defenceman who played one season in the NHL with the St. Louis Blues (1971-72) and then spent seven season in the WHA, playing with the Winnipeg Jets, Edmonton Oilers and San Diego Mariners. Larry died in Regina on May 8, 2001, after a year-long battle with cancer. He was 55.