Notre Dame legend Johnny Lujack is making great strides as he recovers from laminectomy surgery performed last week at the Mayo Clinic to relieve pressure to his neck, his grandkids tell NewsCenter 16.
Lujack was suffering from cervical stenosis where the bone and tissues were pinching off the spinal cord. Without proper surgery, Lujack's condition could have led to being paralyzed.
Lujack has been moved from the post-surgical floor to the rehabilitation floor. With assistance he's begun to walk again and is also eating on his own with regular utensils.
His day begins at 7am every morning and he participates in three hours of various therapies throughout his day.
"The Mayo rehabilitation center is truly state of the art, and in my opinion, the very best in the world," his granddaughter Amy Flanagan says. "Also, he has become a favorite of the Mayo staff. They are so impressed with his physical strength, his determination, his quick and his wonderful personality. No one can really believe he is 89."
At 89, Lujack is the oldest living Heisman Trophy winner. He began to feel numbness while playing golf last month. He was taken to a hospital in Davenport, Iowa where he lives.
The family then called South Bend to speak with Dr. Fred Ferlic. Ferlic then placed a call to the Mayo Clinic and spoke with Dr. Bill Krauss, who performed spinal surgery on Lou Holtz back in 1995. Krauss agreed to do the surgery and Lujack was airlifted to the Mayo Clinic. The 5-hour surgery took place last Wednesday.
"This feels like the start of a football game," Lujack said just before surgery, according to his grandson.
The family said they are incredibly grateful to the folks in South Bend and Notre Dame and in particular Dr. Ferlic for helping to make the surgery happen.
"I took the oath to help people and Johnny Lujack just happens to be one of my heroes," Ferlic said. "It was my honor and my duty to help out and I'm glad it worked out."
Lujack is arguably the greatest player in Notre Dame football history. As a quarterback, he led the Irish to national championships in 1943, 1946 and 1947. His time at Notre Dame was interrupted by serving in the Navy during World War II.
Over the years, he has remained incredibly active, continue to golf a consistent basis.