Zach Kirk remains paralyzed for life

by Matt Pitt | source:

Zach Kirk got hooked on mixed martial arts in March 2009.

Supplementing a wrestling base honed in high school with one week of informal MMA training, Kirk won his first fight by second-round corner stoppage. A month later, he TKO’d his opponent in the fight’s first minute (see below). Third fight was a main event before a hometown crowd; shot at the title would go to the winner.

Seven seconds into the fight Kirk lunged into a double-leg takedown. His opponent defended with a routine standing guillotine choke, leaning his weight forward into Kirk. Kirk moved to drop the fight to the ground, arms and legs became entangled and Kirk fell headfirst to the mat. His fifth cervical vertebra shattered, bone fragments ground into his spinal cord and Kirk suddenly went limp.

EMT personnel on the scene rushed him to three hours of emergency neurologic surgery. Two days later, doctors took him off sedation and Kirk awoke. He was paralyzed from the neck down.

From his bed, immobile, Kirk gave interviews defending MMA’s safety to local media. After acute recovery from surgery, Kirk began rehabilitaion.

“Rehab was a great experience,” he says. “I was there for about two months. They told me I wouldn’t have any movement from the neck down, but now I can move both my arms and my left wrist.”

“My goal is to keep doing therapy -- I call it training -- until I win this fight,” Kirk says.

“I wake up every morning and just try to move each muscle, seeing if something came back in the night,” he says. “I try to start each day positive.”

Kirk uses a special tool to send text messages and type on a computer. With concentration, he can move his foot a few millimeters.

Medical science offers very little for spinal cord injury patients; damaged neurons in the central nervous system, the brain and spinal cord, simply do not regenerate. Statistically, Kirk’s life expectancy is 40 years of age.

As a wrestler, Kirk knew the risks: “I knew injuries could happen in MMA just as easy as in any other sport. I know accidents happen all the time in all sports.”

The incidence of high school wrestling related catastrophic spinal cord injury and death is approximately one per 100,000 participants. Cheerleading has a catastrophic injury risk of 0.6 per 100,000. High school football’s risk of death or paralysis is the same as wrestling’s. Pole vaulting has a catastrophic injury risk of approximately five per 100,000 athletes, and competitive diving has a risk of approximately 20 per 100,000. Professional wrestling, if one adds suicides to in-ring catastrophes, has a risk on the order of 2,500 per 100,000 participants.

MMA athletes have a right to ask for legislatures to treat their sport rationally.

By that same token, if we who wish the sport of mixed martial arts to prosper ask legislatures to be analytical in their evaluation of the sport’s relative safety, we must, in turn, be realistic in acknowledging its dangers. The current young generation of fighters -- boys and girls now in their teens -- is certain to produce new Chuck Liddells, Georges St.Pierres, Jon Joneses and Anderson Silvas.

It will also produce new Zach Kirks. Those young fighters, and we who support the sport with our money and enthusiasm, must face that fact with eyes wide open.

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Recent Comments »

chuckles1 site profile image  

6/27/11 4:46 AM by chuckles1

Amazing guy, it takes a lot of courage to look at the whole situation the way he is. I hope and pray he gets better.

Sigitywop bears site profile image  

6/27/11 4:19 AM by Sigitywop bears

Jesus going thru this thread.. some of you guys are just brutal.. Anyways i hope for the best for this guy my thoughts go out to him and his family

billyfnjack site profile image  

6/27/11 4:09 AM by billyfnjack

Stem cell therapy vs. kind thoughts and get well soon posts on a forum.I'll take the therapy given the choice.

CRE site profile image  

5/23/11 7:23 PM by CRE


Keith Hackneys Mullet site profile image  

5/22/11 9:21 PM by Keith Hackneys Mullet

Fuck man thats sad. really sad to hear that. Hope some breakthrough in medical science comes through for stuff like this.Do you think lots of neckbridges and neck exercises could help prevent this kinda thing?

DirkH site profile image  

5/22/11 7:24 PM by DirkH

Fair enough. I'll drop it. My aplogies to anyone who thought I was bashing Zack or dissing him by arguing on this thread.

SamboMMA site profile image  

5/21/11 8:17 PM by SamboMMA

I was referring to Chimono's revenge who came here with a blatant agenda to troll and took your legit question and turned it into a Political and Religious attack.

soldierdad5417 site profile image  

5/21/11 6:29 PM by soldierdad5417

Seems to me the guy has an optimistic attitude in just about the shittiest situation I could imagine. Good for him, wish I could keep a positive outlook like that. Keep on, keepin' on Zach.

SwockStainTaco site profile image  

5/21/11 5:21 PM by SwockStainTaco

 and a idiot to point it all out

pattitude site profile image  

5/21/11 4:10 PM by pattitude

I think stem cell therapy could definitely help Zach. My point wasn't based on "political hackery"; it was based on a genuine desire to see someone in an awful situation get better through the use of some really promising science.I truly hope his recovery goes well. His positive attitude is remarkably admirable given this situation he's in. Inspirational.