Northland Pines player Gunnar Schiffmann helped Chris Marion off the Dome ice following the national anthem. —STAFF PHOTO
Northland Pines player Gunnar Schiffmann helped Chris Marion off the Dome ice following the national anthem. —STAFF PHOTO
According to some fans attending the Northland Pines boys hockey game last Tuesday night, they witnessed a miracle.

It wasn’t the Eagles defeating their opponent in the rink, but it was a former Northland Pines player walking onto the ice at the Dome — a place he had played hockey since age 4.

The Eagles hosted the special night for Chris Marion, who is recovering from a severe waterski accident Labor Day weekend on Lake Buckatabon near Conover.

Marion, wearing a halo to protect his head, neck and spine, walked onto the ice with the assistance of players for the national anthem — standing on the blue line with the Eagles. A standing ovation from the crowd and players from both teams showed support for the Pines alumnus.

Those attending also purchased bracelets and made donations in support of the Chris Marion Benefit Fund to help him with his long recovery from the accident that started three and one-halfmonths ago.

On Sept. 3, 2017, Chris was wrapping up the summer season the best way he knew how — barefoot waterskiing with friends. 

At 45 years old, Chris continues to take pride in learning new ski tricks and this Labor Day weekend evening was no exception. He was hoping to master what is known as back deeps behind the boom of his ski boat. 

But choppy waters caused Chris to lose his footing and fall forward into the handle of the rope, with the force pulling his skull from his cervical spine. Friends in the boat were the first heroes of this story, doing exactly the right thing by bracing Chris and calling the paramedics. 

Upon their arrival to what is typically a fatal scene, the paramedics immediately intubated Chris, inserting a tube into his  trachea for ventilation. They became the next heroes on Chris’ journey.

Chris was transported by ambulance to Ascension Eagle River Hospital, where emergency room doctors quickly realized he needed specialized care. They called Medivac Air Transport, who transported him by helicopter to Aspirus Hospital in Wausau. 

At Wausau, Chris was stabilized, evaluated through many medical tests and on Sept. 5 underwent surgery to reattach his occipital plate to his first cervical vertebrae, as well as fusing three more cervical vertebrae down his spine. 

Dr. MacKay, neurological spine surgeon, prepared the family for the worst and explained that the injuries are typically devastating. He told them there was no margin for error when operating  so close to the spinal cord. Against all odds, the seven- hour surgery was a success, and Dr. MacKay became the next hero of the story. 

Chris awoke nearly 48 hours later wearing a brace, commonly referred to as a “halo” used to stabilize his head and spine during the healing process. He was able to answer his family’s questions with the blinking of his eyes. 

Within days of removing his breathing tube, Chris was talking very quietly due to vocal chord damage, but never lost his optimism or sense of humor. 

Chris quickly regained motor movement and two weeks after the accident was out of bed and walking. Miraculously, just four weeks later, six weeks after the accident, Chris walked out of the hospital and is currently continuing outpatient rehabilitation. 

The rehabilitation has helped Chris make incredible gains and return to his family to do some of the things he loves. 

“His hard work, unwavering strength and determination have made him the biggest hero of all,” said Eagles’ public address announcer Tony Brown last Tuesday night as Chris walked on the ice.

Loves the North

Chris grew up in St. Germain and graduated from Northland Pines High School in 1990. He began playing youth hockey through the Eagle River Recreation Association at the age of 4 and was part of the State Championship team in 1989. 

In 2004, Chris relocated to Merrill, where he raised two daughters and served his community as a firefighter for the Merrill Fire Department. Chris’ love of the North Woods prompted him to buy a vacation home and open his own business, Northwoods Storage of St. Germain. He was also drawn back to the sport of hockey at the age of 37 and has played for the Eagle River Falcons for the past eight years.

But it was Chris’ walk onto the Dome ice last Tuesday night that might be his greatest victory of all.

Benefit planned

A Chris Marion benefit concert is planned at Sweetwater Spirits and Resort Friday, Dec. 22. The event will include an afternoon potluck, spaghetti dinner, silent auction with prizes, 50/50 raffle and live music.

A potluck is scheduled from 1 to 4 p.m., with appetizers and desserts to be served. For potluck donations, call Kristen at (715) 891-1124.

A spaghetti dinner is planned from 4 to 9 p.m. The cost is $8 and includes spaghetti and sauce, garlic bread and salad.

The evening also will include a silent auction, raffle and a 50/50 raffles with winners announced at 7:30 p.m. Silent auction items will include a Specialized mountain bike, Potowatomi Carter Casino stay, The Waters of Minocqua stay, mattress set, four Milwaukee Admirals hockey tickets and snowmobile Derby tickets.

Live music will be provided by Country Wide Rocks from 8 p.m. to 2 a.m.

All Miller tap beer sales and spaghetti dinner, silent auction, raffle and 50/50 profits will go to the Chris Marion benefit fund.