Although the temperature at the Max Ulin Rink on Friday was set, as it always is, cold enough to keep the surface hard and fast, there was something at that rink that day that warmed the hearts of the Curry Men's Hockey team on this particular practice. That "something" was the presence and the smile of Sean from Brighton, the newest, and by far the youngest new recruit on the Curry College Men's Hockey Team.
Sean #16, is twelve years old and is a native of Brighton, MA. In December of 2010, Sean passed out while he was at school. After bringing Sean to the doctors, who would have thought that two hours later, Sean's active life of playing sports would come to a sudden halt when he and his parents were told that he had leukemia – a phrase that no one ever wants to hear. He immediately began chemotherapy, and spent the month of December (including Christmas) at Children's Hospital. Sean was able to celebrate the New Year with his family at home, but the celebration ended rather quickly when he returned to the hospital after he suffered from seizures and a mini venal stroke which caused immobility on his left side. After many tests, doctors came to the conclusion that the medicine that was helping Sean was also hurting him at the same time. The different medications that Sean was receiving caused his blood to thicken, which in turn, caused the clot. Sean stayed in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) for two weeks, and remarkably was able to regain movement on his left side. He endured physical therapy which helped him regain full mobility in his arms and legs, and he also endured thirty weeks of shots to prevent strokes in the future. In February, after two months in the hospital, Sean finally was able to go home.
Although the most grueling part of Sean's treatment appears to be over, he and his parents still make weekly visits to Dana-Farber Cancer Institute to receive chemotherapy along with a range of anti-stroke medicines. Sean is in the 7th grade, but unfortunately, as a result of his treatment regimen and his physical stamina, he only attends school on a half day basis three to four days a week. He also can't participate in the sports that he loves to play. Baseball, hockey, and simple games of tag have been missing from Sean's life for the last thirteen months. While his quality of life continues to progress, there is still a void in this twelve year old's world. Hopefully, the Curry College Men's Hockey Team are well on their way to filling that void.
Sean was introduced to the Curry Hockey Team by Team IMPACT, a non-profit chartered to improve the quality of life for children facing life-threatening illnesses. Core to the Team IMPACT model is harnessing the power of team work and matching these courageous kids with college athletic teams close to where they live.
It's hard to believe that Sean's draft day had finally arrived on that last Friday in January. Like so many other things in Sean's life that have been interrupted or postponed by this devastating illness, so was his draft day. His draft day was originally scheduled for the prior week, but Sean developed a sinus infection and a blood infection which left him in the hospital yet again for one week. Luckily, Sean was able to fight off the infections, and the day that he had been waiting for finally arrived!
Sean and his family began their draft day by watching the team practice. After practice, it was time to get Sean onto the ice. Sean put his practice gear on (his own personalized #16 Curry hockey jersey), at his very own locker stall in the Curry locker room. With help from his new teammates, Sean laced up his skates and got ready to hit the ice for the first time since he was diagnosed more than a year ago. As an excited Sean entered the rink and skated towards the rest of the team huddled at center ice, all that could be heard was the loud and rhythmic thumping of hockey sticks banging on the hard surface from each and every one of his new team mates. A powerful and symbolic team gesture further memorializing the relationship and the entire team's unwavering support for a courageous kid that just wants a chance to play and participate like any other typical twelve year old.
After some skating and the opportunity to take some shots on the net, Sean and the team went into the locker room. With the team, coaches, and Sean's parents all gathered around, Head Coach, Rob Davies welcomed the "honorary team captain" to the team. Sean's father also spoke to the team in order to provide his new teammates with additional insights into Sean's medical journey and the courage he's shown in battling the life threatening illness, leukemia. After his father said a few words, everyone cheered as a decorative hockey cake was brought into the room for Sean. As posted on Sean's Care Page by his mother, Lynne, "We feel laughter and smiles are great medicine and a very powerful way to help speed recovery. Anything that can bring a smile to his face is all we are asking for. Whether it be a card, a joke or a visit to play a game, anything that will keep his spirits up will be welcomed." As Sean settled into his spot on the leather sofa surrounded by his new team, smiling ear-to-ear, knowing that this is the first day of a long season and a long relationship with his new team, I think it is safe to say that Sean is receiving the most powerful type of medicine to help with his recovery – the warmth of an ice hockey team.