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    Racquetball injury at PSB paralyzes cop

    Racquetball injury at PSB paralyzes cop
    Investigator Nick Vassenelli, injured on lunch hour, can move some fingers.

    November 04, 2003

    By Sue Weibezahl
    Staff writer

    A Syracuse police detective is paralyzed after a freak accident that happened while he was playing racquetball at the Public Safety Building.


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    Investigator Nick Vassenelli, 44, was playing racquetball nearly two weeks ago during his lunch hour in a facility across from the men's locker room.

    How the accident happened is still unclear, but he apparently slipped or tripped and slammed into a wall, injuring his spinal cord, police sources said.

    "It's been tough on everyone," his wife, Melissa, said Monday. "But we appreciate everyone's well wishes, especially the police department and family and friends. We're just asking for everyone's prayers at this time."

    He was paralyzed from the neck down when the accident happened, she said, but has made some progress since.

    Vassenelli married the former Melissa Dwyer two years ago and they have a 3-month-old son, his wife said.

    As a police officer's wife, "You always think at some point, with a dangerous job, someone's going to come and tell you some terrible news," Melissa Vassenelli said.

    When police officers showed up, however, they were in their street clothes because they'd been working out with her husband.

    "It didn't hit me at first," she said. "I thought they were just stopping by my work to say hello."

    She knew her husband, a 17-year veteran of the department, had worked on cases involving homicides and drug deals and gang members, but he never expected danger to come from a sport he enjoyed, she said.

    "Any sport where you could hit your head into a hard surface could result in paralysis, but I've never heard it happening in racquetball," said Dr. Daniel Carr, an orthopedic surgeon with CNY Orthopedic Sports Medicine in Syracuse.

    Racquetball is a fast-paced sport similar to handball, in which two or four players hit a small rubber ball against walls to score points.

    American Sports Data Inc. reported last year that racquet sports, such as racquetball and tennis, rank the highest among exercise activities that caused injuries. Typically, the injuries involve bruises, sprains, fractures and torn tendons, according to www.racquetballcentral.com.
    Vassenelli went to St. Joseph's Hospital Health Center but has been transferred to University Hospital and is expected to be released to a rehabilitation facility soon, officials said.

    Treatment will probably include high-dose intravenous steroids to reduce swelling around the spinal cord and nerves, then probably the surgical insertion of metal rods to stabilize the spine, Carr said.

    "The doctors have ruled out a complete recovery," Melissa Vassenelli said. "So that means he probably won't be running around again. But we're just hoping to get him to a point where he's functional."

    Vassenelli reportedly is able to move the fingers on one of his hands and last week was able to feel the sensation of a sharp object on his foot, both of which are encouraging signs.

    "It's slow progress, but it's progress," said Dan Jones, vice president of the Police Benevolent Association. "We're hoping for an optimistic prognosis."

    Vassenelli "has always been in the middle of or near our high-profile investigations for a number of years," Inspector Michael Kerwin said. One of Vassenelli's biggest skills is his ability to talk to sources, Kerwin said.

    "You hear about the big cops and the muscular cops solving cases, and that's laughable," Kerwin said. "All of our major crimes are solved with people skills and the ability to talk to suspects, witnesses and victims. That's the key ingredient to being successful in detective work, and he knows how to talk to people."

    Officers are encouraged to stay in shape because they have to undergo a "physical efficiency battery" annually that tests body fat, cardiovascular functions and a number of other criteria, Kerwin said.

    The Public Safety Building is equipped with treadmills, cross-training equipment, Stairmasters, weight rooms, two gyms and the racquetball and handball court, which is in the basement.

    Depending on their assignments, officers and detectives can "easily get a workout in on a slow day," Kerwin said.

    "Great guy, terrible tragedy," said Sgt. Nicholas Harmatiuk of the state police in North Syracuse, whose investigators have worked with the city's detectives on a number of cases.

    Word has spread among members of the law enforcement community and some officers and deputies are wondering what they can do to help, he said.

    Jones said the PBA is planning to organize an event to raise money for Vassenelli's expenses and to help his family.


    © 2003 The Post-Standard. Used with permission.

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    #2
    Ass holes

    "The doctors have ruled out a complete recovery," Melissa Vassenelli said. "So that means he probably won't be running around again. But we're just hoping to get him to a point where he's functional."

    "All you have to decide is what to do with the time that is given you."
    Gandolf the Gray
    http://justadollarplease.org/

    2010 SCINet Clinical Trial Support Squad Member

    "You kids and your cures, why back when I was injured they gave us a wheelchair and that's the way it was and we liked it!" Grumpy Old Man

    .."i used to be able to goof around so much because i knew Superman had my back. now all i've got is his example -- and that's gonna have to be enough."

    Comment


      #3
      PH

      "All you have to decide is what to do with the time that is given you."
      Gandolf the Gray
      http://justadollarplease.org/

      2010 SCINet Clinical Trial Support Squad Member

      "You kids and your cures, why back when I was injured they gave us a wheelchair and that's the way it was and we liked it!" Grumpy Old Man

      .."i used to be able to goof around so much because i knew Superman had my back. now all i've got is his example -- and that's gonna have to be enough."

      Comment


        #4
        First I'd like to wish Nick a quick recovery.
        Secondly, I went to grammar school with Nick at Our lady of Pompei.
        We used to argue about which team was better, his Packers or my Vikings.
        Nick, get well and when I'm back in Syracuse, I'll look you up and we can continue our
        disagreement, even though we both know you will be right. Fell free to email me at
        wworks@cinci.rr.com
        Bill Works

        Comment

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