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UCLA Magazine Summer 2004
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Summer 2004
The Perfect Storm
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Sean Gjos and Teammates on the Ice
Sean Gjos (right) with teammates Ralph Vogel and Eric Eisner on the ice for UCLA's club hockey team

SEAN GJOS' INJURY occurred about midway down his back, fracturing the T-11 vertebra, compressing the soft tissue of the spinal cord and cutting off oxygen and nutrients to the cells, causing the nerves responsible for sensation and movement below the site of the damage to die.

In the hours that followed, word reached Westwood nearly 700 miles away. Gjos' roommate and fellow Anderson student Jim Young M.B.A. '99 was in the apartment they shared when Vogel called. "He told me to sit down, and then he told me Sean had been paralyzed," Young recalls. "I took a few breaths and I started thinking about what needed to be done."

At Latter-Day Saints Hospital, doctors operated for six hours, implanting 18-inch-long steel rods around Gjos' spine to stabilize the intact vertebrae. The only moment of self-doubt that Vogel says he heard from Gjos was after the surgery when his friend confided: "I was just starting to get it together."

That sentiment would have surprised those who knew Gjos well because, in fact, he appeared to already have it all together. He'd grown up modestly on Manitoulin Island, an outdoorsman's paradise on Lake Huron in Ontario, Canada. A gifted hockey player from the age of 5, Gjos had the qualities that would have allowed him to coast into adulthood on looks, charm and athletic abilities. Instead, he set his sights on Brown University in Rhode Island, where he studied international relations and played goalie on the university team. He worked several years as an investment banker before pursuing an M.B.A. at The Anderson School — named for another avid Bruin hockey player, John Anderson '40.

Chalk it up to the proactive mind-set that characterizes the business psyche, but by the time Gjos was out of surgery, his Anderson classmates had begun crafting a plan to help the injured athlete cope with his daunting predicament. Arrangements were made to fly Gjos back to Los Angeles for treatment and rehabilitation at UCLA Medical Center. Meanwhile, "Ralph, Jim and I began asking ourselves, what does Sean's insurance cover?" recalls Eric Eisner M.B.A. '99. "What special needs will he have? These aren't things the average 20-something grad student ever has to think of."

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