Notre Dame legend Johnny Lujack is recovering after successful laminectomy surgery at the Mayo Clinic to relieve pressure to his neck, his grandson Grant Pohlmann tells me.
Lujack will remain at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota for the next several days to recover and will then begin to rehab.
The 89-year-old is the oldest living Heisman Trophy winner. He began to feel numbness while playing golf two weeks ago. He was taken to a hospital in Davenport, Iowa where he lives. 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.
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 on Monday. The 5-hour surgery began Wednesday morning.
"This feels like the start of the a football game," Lujack said just before surgery, according to his grandson.
The family says Lujack will most likely stay “several weeks” at their rehab facility to work on walking and getting back the use of his hands so he can eat and perform all his activities around the house.
"The rods and screws will inhibit his neck movement so golf is unlikely but he is OK with this as he shares the same goal as Dr. Krauss; to walk," Pohlmann says.
Pohlmann says his grandfather is doing great and is already cracking jokes with the family and nurses. Pohlmann 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.