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DU player walking after surgery for broken neck

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November 9, 2010 04:37 PM EST | AP

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ST. PAUL, Minn. — University of Denver forward Jesse Martin walked Tuesday for the first time since his neck was broken during an Oct. 30 game, an encouraging step in what his doctors said will be a long recovery from a devastating injury.

It will be at least a year before anyone knows whether Martin can play hockey again, but Dr. Alex Mendez told reporters that Monday's surgery was a success.

"These injuries are very serious," Mendez said. "They can cause paralysis. Some people can die. If he had been hit a little bit more, we probably wouldn't be here. This was a violent injury."

Martin, of Edmonton, Alberta, was knocked out and suffered a broken vertebra in the second period of a game at North Dakota. His father, Terry Martin, told reporters his son had no feeling in his extremities while he was lying on the ice and thought he was paralyzed.

The senior was taken to a Grand Forks, N.D., hospital, then flown to Regions Hospital in St. Paul for more specialized treatment. Surgeons on Monday stabilized his broken vertebra by inserting a screw into the bone and realigning two other vertebrae. They said they fortunately did not need to fuse the vertebrae, which would have ended his playing career.

On Tuesday, Martin took his first tentative steps, walking with help from his bed to a chair. He sat down, got back up and walked back to his bed, doctors said.

Martin will remain at Regions for the next week or 10 days, then return to Denver.

"We want him confident with his ability to walk," said his other surgeon, Dr. Robert Morgan. "We want to make sure he is swallowing OK."

North Dakota forward Brad Malone was suspended for one game for his check of Martin. Team officials say Martin and Malone have spoken and that Martin has no hard feelings.

Terry Martin said his son had no other wish in life but to play hockey, and is trying to focus on his recovery rather than look too far ahead.

"He said, 'Some people look at the glass as half-full, some people look at the glass as half-empty, I'm extremely grateful I have a glass,'" his father said.

Doctors said there's no way they'll know whether he can play again for at least a year.

"A lot of things have to go right, but I'm not going to tell him he can't," Morgan said.