Dane Issigonis was a typical Canadian kid - running around the North Shore Winter Club, cracking wise with his teachers and offering his parents a glimpse of the young man he had the potential to become.
That potential was almost erased when a sudden Arteriovenous Malformation, or an AVM bleed on Dane’s brain, threatened everything.
Here’s part 2 of my interview with the Issigonis family. You can read part 1 here.
Troy (Dad): As a youngster, Dane was a really strong hockey player.
Kelvin: You said earlier Dane that you modelled yourself after Pavel Datsyuk. Or was that just natural?
Dane: That was just kind of natural. When I was younger, I used to have a droopy eye which was kind of like the same as this one now. But this one was quite a bit lower, it covered half my pupil. So I kind of had to adapt my other eye. I’m right-handed but my left eye was stronger so I was off-eye dominant so I could kind of see it from both angles so I had really good hand-eye coordination.
Kelvin: And the story starts to come out, right? It sounds like you’ve been adapting to things since you were 4 or 5 years old right.
Kelvin: It’s funny how things happen to people that maybe are set up mentally, just right, to deal with them. You had an issue with your eye and you actually used it to tailor your style on the ice.
So you’ve been through a ton in your life. Tell me about the day that it happened. Describe just in your own words what you were doing that day. Were you playing hockey, or were you at school?
Dane: Well it was actually Boxing Day technically, like Christmas night. So obviously I was still pretty excited about Christmas and I just passed out on the couch. I don’t remember it but apparently I woke up with a really, really bad headache and came into my parents’ bedroom and said that it was so bad that I wanted to die. And my dad, and actually meningitis was going around at that time so my dad was really worried about that so he threw me in the car and we drove to Children’s. And my Dad still tells the story about how there’s speed bumps on our street, he was flooring it and he hits a speed bump and I was, “YEOW” dad!
Kelvin: Flying up and hitting the roof probably?
Kelvin: So what was that like for you guys? What did you ... obviously it must have been pretty scary.
Troy: On the way there it wasn’t that scary.
Troy: No, I just I thought it was meningitis. We talked about putting him back to bed with some Tylenol. And then I took him to the emergency room at the hospital because I had been there a few days earlier with my middle son with strep throat so we were pretty sure he had strep throat. I wasn’t exactly sure what it was. But I thought, you know, if we get there at that time of the day there wouldn’t be any lineups or wait or anything.
Kelvin: It was late on the 26th?
Troy: It was 6 in the morning.
Kelvin: Oh ok, 6 in the morning on Boxing Day?
Troy: Yeah, he came into our room at 5:45, I just remember looking at a clock.
Troy: We just pretty much got up and left. We talked about it for a bit. But left. And then we got to the hospital at 6:09. I remember that. When we were checking in, the guy doing the typing was looking at him and he said you know, something’s not right. He started to stretch his leg out, he’s kind of not behaving right, he kind of lost consciousness on the way there. So before we checked in, we just picked him up and carried him into a resuscitation room. We set him down and there was this old doctor there, I can still remember, I just set him down and moved back and I said yeah, he came in with a bad headache and he’s not doing well. And then he looked in his eyes, and as soon as he looked in his eyes, he said, “I think your son’s pretty sick”.
Dane: One of my pupils wasn’t responding. He was shining a flashlight, and normally I think it either makes your pupil bigger or smaller, and mine just stayed dilated.
Kelvin: So they knew right away?
Troy: They knew, we weren’t in there a minute, he knew.
Karen: Which I think is the big thing. That’s what I’ve heard since but I’ve read a lot in that sense, that it goes either misdiagnosed, or you know, bad headache, you have Advil and go back to bed and then you just don’t make it.
Troy: He wouldn’t have made it.
Karen: What Troy missed there is we weren’t that worried leaving the house, when they left, but that ride, he’s told me about it since then, the ride from, we live in Deep Cove to Lion’s Gate, it turned hellish really fast, he realized that he was going downhill, he started vomiting, you know, he kind of slipped out of consciousness or whatever, it happens pretty fast.
Kelvin: This is obviously difficult for you guys. Do you guys, even just listening to the story, do you, and we’ll get back to it in a second, but do you think back to, there must be so many “what-ifs” that go through your brain. What if you put him - I’m sure you’ve tortured yourself and stayed up at night many times.
Karen: There was lots of that actually.
Troy: For the most part, we’re just thankful.
Karen: Lots of luck. It couldn’t have gone any better than it did, really, like the what-ifs are Joel (older brother - ed.) was in Calgary, we were supposed to be driving to Vernon to ski for a day or two, Troy’s parents are there, and then on to Calgary for the last few days of Joel’s tournament. And then our middle son got sick Christmas Eve so that changed everything. Joel left Christmas morning. He’s sick, we don’t know what we’re going to do now kind of thing. So we could have been on the coquihalla.
Kelvin: So the possibilities of not being able to access a hospital …
Karen: Or we could have been up the ski hill. There’s a bunch of things that would have been really . . . like we needed to be near a major city centre hospital. So most of the what-ifs are . . . we had the best case scenario. That’s what we’re so thankful for.
Troy: I do have a what-if though. When he was, years earlier, 7, he passed out one time and we didn’t know why he passed out. We took him in and they did some tests on him and I can remember we saw a paediatrician. He said well, we don’t know why, what it was exactly. He said either it will never happen again and we won’t worry about it or it will happen again and we’ll find out what it was or it’ll happen again and we won’t find out what it is.
Kelvin: That’s pretty helpless.
Troy: In hindsight though, had we looked, really made a research project out of it, we would have found it then.
Kelvin: Right, but how would you . . . it’s not a genetic thing.
Karen: It’s hard to say. No, it’s a birth defect. The other thing is, there is another what-if, I forgot about it. So the year before this, when Dane was nine, him and Jonas Harkins collided in practice and it was a yard sale I guess, it was terrible. I think Jonas had about 60 pounds on Dane and they really, literally like their cages just smashed together, they were doing some drill where they were . . .
Kelvin: One going one way . . .
Troy: They didn’t see each other at all.
Karen: Not at all.
Troy: He hit so hard in the back of Jonas he broke his jaw.
Kelvin: What? Are you like, just this unlucky, Dane? How did this happen?
Dane: Well as my mom said, we were doing a drill where all the forwards are in a corner, there’s a coach in the other corner and there’s a D man at the blue line, pass it to the D man, go to the net and the D man shoots it and you tip it and then the coach sends you a pass and you go one on one with the D man. For some reason we were going on both sides of the rink and I guess they drifted kind of into our lane and I was just looking for the pass from my coach so my head was down facing toward that corner and he was coming down the middle of the ice . . .
Dane: Yeah and I remember as soon as we collided the puck was coming so I kind of lunged forward to get it.
Kelvin: Right, face-first?
Dane: Yeah and I just kind of - bang - and I remember I got up and skated off and I was sitting on the bench.
Kelvin: Sounds like that’s kind of your style.
That's Dane: resilient. That's part of what makes his story so remarkable. Here's a young hockey player who had the toughness to overcome a severely broken jaw, a person who would later experience pain so severe he told his father he wanted to die.
As witnesses, as observers, it's easy for the story to ignite fear within. We can make claims like thank god it happened to someone else, and there is a measure of truth in that. We never know how we'll deal with things when they happen, especially tragic things.
This is not what I choose to take out of Dane's story though. I choose to believe that the strength in this young man, this little boy who talks about mortality without a second thought, this is strength that Dane is reminding us that we all have.
We learn about the aftermath of Dane’s on-ice collision and how that foreshadowed the AM bleed a year later.
* Special thanks to Per Oisten-Hoem for the featured image of Dane at the MPS Cup this past summer at the North Shore Winter Club. Also in the photo are Jonas Harkins, Nicklas Harkins and Dante Fabbro.