Farmington Hills priest paralyzed playing hockey makes miraculous recovery

- Progress has been slow, but 66-year-old Father Dimitrie Vincent has experienced his own miracle on ice.

Nearly three months ago, the Farmington Hills priest was paralyzed during a hockey game. 

"We were coming to the close of the game and we were down by a couple goals," he says. "I went to play the puck and I got tangled up with the opposition."

It was in those final moments, Father Dimitrie's life would change.

"When I hit the boards I couldn't release," he says. "I landed right on the ice face down."

A recreational hockey league play left this priest paralyzed.

"I realize I couldn't feel anything from below my shoulders, I was paralyzed from the neck down," he says. 

Emergency crews rushed him to the hospital where he learned that he had cracked his vertebrae, causing a severe spinal cord injury.

"It was very hard because it was the worst pain I ever experienced in my life," he says. "And it was nothing but a ball of pain. I was frozen. I couldn't move and the pain was excruciating."

Over the next three months, Father D's spiritual journey would shift. Instead of serving his parishioners at St. Thomas Orthodox in Farmington Hills - he would have to focus on his own physical health.

He had to undergo surgery, battle infection and endure countless hours of grueling physical therapy at Marycrest, a rehab facility in Livonia. Father D was forced to learn how to walk and use his hands all over again.

"I came in completely paralyzed and there were people to bathe me, feed me, clothe me," he says. "It really touched my heart. I was living the Gospel. I didn't need to read the Gospel; those weeks I lived it."

Father Vincent's love of hockey started in the 1950s. One day his mom took him to the Detroit Skate Club.

"Wouldn't you know it, a fight broke out that very game," he says. "Wouldn't you know it my mom said no, it is too dangerous; there are no helmets; there is blood; do something more safe. I was like what? She said play football."

That didn't stop a young Dimitrie, who played the puck into his priesthood, most recently in the Over-60 League at the Redford Ice Arena. Sadly, the final play of the game on Nov. 25 would be his last time on the ice - but not inside the rink.

Last month his supporters held a charity hockey game at the Plymouth Cultural Center. The money raised would help defray his mounting medical costs.

Perhaps it was the power of prayer which allowed Father D to perform his own 'miracle on ice.'  For the first time, on his own, he stood from his wheelchair and walked up to the bench to personally show his appreciation.

"If my fellow mates are going to be there, I should be there to say thank you," he said. "Unbeknownst to even the people who drove me down there, I got up and shook the hand and thank them."

"It was pretty powerful because I surprised a number of people," he says. "It was great choice to show that sort of appreciation."

Sitting in another house of worship, Father Dimitirie reflects on his personal faith perspective. His recovery is far from over. His motivation comes from his calling - and the chance to serve at the altar and his community once again.

"My purpose isn't to be a hockey player, my joy is to serve God and with love, serve my neighbor and certainly be there to serve my family. So if that can happen, I am a pretty happy guy."

Hockey Has Heart is an organization that financially assists injured hockey players. The organization is holding a fundraiser on March 24th, at the St. George Albanian Cultural Center in Southfield. All of the money raised will go to help Father Dimitrie and his road to recovery. 

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