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Dane Issigonis at the MPS Cup at the North Shore Winter Club

Finding a Path in Darkness: Dane Issigonis, Part 4

02/27/2015, 5:00am PST
By Kelvin Cech

The second to last post of an interview with the Issigonis family...

Dane Issigonis went through a lot as a hockey player and that was before he suffered a sudden AVM bleed on his brain on Christmas Day in 2010. 

This is the 4th in a 5 part series, my interview with Dane and his family. I’ve started to get more and more feedback as the series rolls on, friends of the family, friends of my family back home, former coaches. 

It’s tough to read. It would have been tough to be there. 

Thankfully, Dane was the person who was there, and he’s the person who’s still here to tell us the story.

Read Part 1

Read Part 2

Read Part 3

We pick up right after Dane arrived at the hospital on December 26th, 2010.

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Troy Issigonis: And they called up Dr. Mutat who came down about 8:30am.

Kelvin Cech: This is 2 hours after you got there?

Troy: Yeah. He said, he started to go over some of the scans and he said see all this? This is all blood. I’m like, you need to operate. Well, this isn’t good, like, see this, this is all blood.

Kelvin: It’s not going to get better anyways, just do it. 

Troy: Yeah, just operate, let’s get on it. Well I need to tell you, see this, this is all blood. Like what are you telling me this for?

Kelvin: Take the chance.

Troy: Just get at it.

Karen: Stressful for them. We’ve heard since then too, one of the members of the club here is an OR nurse there and a friend of ours is a nurse at Lions Gate, and you don’t realize that it’s not a children’s hospital to begin with, and it was a bit of a rare situation, and he was so sick when he arrived, it was so critical right away, that they all really struggled…

Kelvin: With how to make that decision?

Karen: Yes. As well, they asked after what could they do better next time, they use it as a bit of a teaching tool now. It was traumatic for everyone involved, there’s this little body with this condition surging through him. We became really good friends with the girl who ended up being his ICU nurse, so she gets the first call,  a 10-year old boy blah blah blah, get ready now, what kind of board to plan, and even she thought he wasn’t going to make it. 

Then all of a sudden they are operating , he’s coming in so then we had quite a journey with her but she said that they really did not know dosages and things like that, so it was really stressful for them and you think they just kind of know this stuff.

Kelvin: Right, like there’s a book and they know everything.

Karen: Yeah. It wasn’t really like that.

Troy: It looked just like those Chinese fire drills where the kids pull up at a red light and they try to all run out, there was people running around there, there was way more than 10 people in there.

Kelvin: Trying to save a kid’s life.

Karen: Yeah, horrible, and that’s what he said, the doctor told us that Children’s gave up, he said they weren’t going to call in their neurosurgeon and he said you don’t give up on a little boy, you just don’t. So we were pretty thankful for that.

Kelvin: Until it’s all said and done, right?

Karen: Absolutely, the end, right? 

And then he lived. It was a miracle for him to survive it in the first place and then to survive the surgery, another whole step, and then to survive those critical days afterwards. 

All of these were huge steps and then there’s this whole side of your body that isn’t working. Once we were through the worst then the questions started. Are you going to get that movement back? Is he going to . . .

Troy: They don’t tell you anything. They say that with brain injuries we just don’t know. Just wait and see.

Kelvin: And he’s still here and he’s playing hockey and being a kid. A young man. This highlights to an incredible degree the things people take for granted. 

Dane, I’m sorry I’m putting your family through total hell here, I’m sure you guys have told the story countless times and it’s got to be just as hard every single time so.

Troy: It’s actually been quite a while.

Karen: You don’t forget but it gets less, you know you don’t think about it as much.

Kelvin: And I imagine with what everyone’s gone through, you must use hockey as a buffer? I have a game with my peewee team in an hour, I coach a player that’s coming to the game whose grandfather died this morning… 

Karen: …

Kelvin: And he’s still here so I’ve been kind of sort of gearing up for this, for this meeting and stuff like that and thinking about little Johnny all day. Sometimes hockey is what we all rally around, right?

Dane: Yeah.

Kelvin: What’s hockey mean for you these days, Dane? To be able to still play?

Dane: Honestly for me it’s just like a way to get away from everything, get away from all the worries and the questions about what am I going to do when I’m older and stuff. It’s just a way to release.

Kelvin: You mean worries about your health? Or worries like going to school and being a student, dealing with teachers and stuff like that?

Dane: Yeah exactly. It’s a way to escape all the “oh are you ok” and stuff like that. The other teams we play against, obviously they’re not best friends with me but they don’t just give me the puck so it’s not like they take pity on me, which is nice.

Karen: Nice and normal.

Troy: You know what’s a big story though? I really think is how much the Club helped.  It was unbelievable.

Karen: it was a huge part of our story. Huge.

Troy: People wanted to know what was happening, so we’re texting people and they’re calling, so one of our friends, I think day one, or day two, set up this “Lots of Helping Hands” website, and people could register on that. We would phone her at the end of the day and say things like “he lived today”, this is where it’s at and they would publish that to anybody who was registered on the site. There was a lot of people registered and they could post messages with well-wishing, messages telling Dane he was going to get better. People also helped us out, on the site were messages like the Issigonis’ need help with this, the Issigonis’ need help with that. Dane’s in the hospital for 4 months and our friends are finding a way to get us food delivered. 

Kelvin: Somebody needs to feed the older kids, right? Joel has a Giants game tonight, he has to eat while his parents are at the hospital.

Troy: They set up a cooler on the steps at our house and people could check off with, say what they’re making for dinner, and they fed our family for four months. Every meal. Like, every one. I’d come home and there would be appetizers, a full 4 course meal, bottles of wine, desserts. It was unbelievable.

Kelvin: A way for you to unbuckle from the emotional burden you’ve been dealing with all day. 

Troy: Families drove who knew him from hockey, drove from Cloverdale, they would register and drop things off. 

Karen: You know what blew me away? I was just telling this story the other day - we have this big rivalry with Burnaby. And we had two older boys. We’ve had that forever and I’ve never really liked that black and yellow vs the red and white thing and I get that it’s sports, but our two older boys, we were in the rink 7 days a week for years and years. 

I remember one time this gift arrived and it was from the Burnaby Winter Club team. I read the card and of course I was managing the team before this all happened so I knew that manager’s name. 

They hung Dane’s number 91 behind the bench at every game. We’re thinking, how did they even know? We knew kids from other teams just because you play so much hockey you get to recognize some of the names and they sent him a hockey video and a hockey book and I was just overwhelmed by the support.

Kelvin: Do you think it’s because hockey players will always look out for their own, even if they’re a bitter rival? It’s still just a kid playing hockey? 

Karen: I think that’s what happened here. The support was amazing. We’re such an average family, three boys playing hockey every day of the week, competitive, go, go, go. We lived here at the North Shore Winter Club.

Things happen to normal people and it was the time of year, everyone was gathered here for three-on-three and they all talked, ‘oh my god did you hear about Dane?’ And Joel’s team, I felt horrible for them, he didn’t even play a game, he was getting ready to go to his first game in Calgary at that time, but the rest of that tournament they played terrible. We had a lot of competitive families on that team. And they all said, you know what, nobody really cared.

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This is the Issigonis family - passionate, caring and deeply loyal to their friends and family. To worry about the performance of their older son’s hockey team, to feel for those players who might not have performed because of the events of the real world…

This is a level of down-to-earth to be admired, to be adopted. 

Next week, the final post:

Karen Issigonis: And of course, everyone was asking: 

Where’s Joel?

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