Shooting for a full recovery

Jaden is back on the ice thanks to expert care from the MCH Concussion Clinic

Playing hockey is more than just a pastime for 13-year old Jaden Pantazis; it’s a passion. From an early age he excelled at the sport, and now is in the sport - hockey concentration program at Collège Jean-de-Brébeuf as well as playing for the Lac St-Louis Lions. But in February 2016, Jaden was sidelined by concussion symptoms. Managing them and getting back to his beloved sport has required a great deal of patience and determination on his part, and has been made easier thanks to the expertise of the Concussion Clinic at the Montreal Children’s Hospital. 

Tracking delayed symptoms

With three active teens in the Pantazis family, the days are filled with sports.  Jaden’s older sister Alexandra is obtaining her lifeguard certification and his older brother Frankie, also a double letter caliber player plays in the Bantam division, while Jaden is a high-scoring centre in the Peewee AA category.

In late January 2016, George recalls being at a Saturday morning tournament in Ville d’Anjou watching Jaden play for his Lac St-Louis Lions team. “Jaden went in to help his team while short-handed and slid across the ice to get the puck out of his zone. Once down he got hit in the head by another player’s skate. It was the second period of the game and he stopped playing immediately as a precaution,” he explains.

Despite the knock to the head, Jaden didn’t complain of any concussion symptoms at first but mostly neck muscle pain. His appetite was good at lunch time and he reported feeling fine. “We decided to watch and wait and see how he felt for the next little while,” says George. That same evening, Jaden was still feeling fine with no symptoms, so they headed to a final tournament game at Loyola High School, this time for his Brébeuf team. “Jaden played well and was even voted MVP that evening,” says George. Everything seemed like it was back to normal until the following day when Jaden began to complain about a myriad of symptoms including dizziness and headaches. The family made an appointment to see Jaden’s pediatrician, Dr. John Yaremko.

Dealing with a difficult diagnosis

“Dr. Yaremko examined him and confirmed that Jaden had a concussion,” says George. An appointment was arranged for the Concussion Clinic at the Montreal Children’s HospitalTrauma Centre for a more in-depth assessment of his symptoms. The news that followed was not what Jaden expected to hear:  no hockey or gym class until fully symptom free, and a recommendation for school staff that he be excused from academic activities if he had any further concussion symptoms. It would be a huge adjustment for the active and athletic teen.

“The hardest part was not being able to play hockey or watch TV,” says Jaden. George adds, “Jaden had always been active. He was used to training every day and being able to practice with his friends on the team at school. Not being able to play and not having a definitive timeline to come back had him feeling quite sad.”

Like father, like son

As a father, George is very involved in the athletic activities of his children and his wife ensures that the academics are never forgotten or set aside. “My wife makes sure that the emotions of the sport don’t run too high,” he explains. George sees a lot of his younger self in Jaden and can relate to his son’s passion for hockey and his devotion to the sport. When Jaden had to put hockey on hold for seven weeks, George missed the routine of picking him up from school several times a week to go to hockey practice. “I’d go pick him up at Brébeuf with the hockey equipment in the car and a prepared meal. All Jaden would have to do is sit back unwind and relax while we beat the rush hour traffic together as we made our way to the West Island arena.” The two would have great conversations in the car. Jaden even remarked that some of the best guidance he received was during those long commutes sitting in the back seat of his father’s car.

The hardest part for George was not knowing what to expect as Jaden got better. “The recovery period is not black-and-white, there was no way to know how long it was going to take for Jaden to truly feel better. Sometimes he would be feeling good and suddenly the symptoms would reappear.”

It takes a team

To deal with all the possible impacts of a brain injury, patients rely on the expertise of the Concussion Clinic’s inter-professional team. The core team is made up of an Intake Coordinator, Trauma Coordinators, physiotherapists, neuropsychologists, and psychologists. Other physicians and health professionals may be consulted as per specific patient and family needs. According to Trauma Coordinator, Helen Kocilowicz, the needs of each patient and family are closely monitored and an individualized approach to care is designed by the team of experts. 

Physiotherapist Christine Beaulieu worked with Jaden and explains that there is an order to treating concussions. “We test both physical and cognitive exertion to see if the concussion symptoms reappear. However, we make sure that the patient is able to fully function cognitively before giving them the green light to go back to sports, even if their physical abilities are back on track.”

While it’s important to prioritize a patient’s ability to function in school and reduce the amount and intensity of physical activity while recovering, the philosophy at the Children’s is not to cut it out completely. “Exercise is part of the recovery program. When Jaden asked if he could skate a few laps on the outdoor rink near his home, we told him to tie up his skates and give it a go!” says Christine.

Dr. Karine Gauthier, a neuropsychologist, also lends her expertise to the MCH Concussion Clinic and sees first hand just how severely an mTBI can disrupt someone’s life. “The symptoms of a concussion can have major consequences: a patient can have difficulty concentrating in school, not be able to take part in sports or go out to noisy places. This can be very limiting, especially for a teenager, and since we can’t predict how long it will be before they feel better or go back to their normal functioning or resume their normal activities, it can cause anxiety and depression.” Cognitive behavioral therapy, reassurance about recovery, relaxation techniques and breathing exercises, are some of the ways that we help our patients feel better again.” explains Dr. Gauthier.

Patience goes a long way

Today, Jaden is back to playing hockey and is 100 per cent symptom-free–a big relief to his dad. “When your child is dealing with a serious injury, it’s every parent’s worst nightmare. Now that he’s back to playing, it’s a real joy to watch him back on the ice. He has a great future ahead of him.”

As for Jaden, he is looking forward to hockey camp and a possible family vacation abroad this summer. His words of advice for anyone experiencing something similar are to “just be patient”.