Players from the Major Atom A Orillia Terriers spent their summers doing 40 hours a week to help send a friend with a heart condition on a dream vacation to a Maple Leafs game.
BY GARRETT BURCHETT
There is no doubting the contributions NHL players make for those less fortunate. Just look at P.K Subban's recent $10 million pledge to the Montreal Children's Hospital. Or Henrik Sedin, the most recent winner of the King Clancy Memorial Trophy, and the $1.5 million dollar donation he made with his twin brother, Daniel, to the B.C. Children's Hospital Foundation in 2010.
But it doesn't have to take a superstar athlete or millions of dollars to make a difference in someone's life. Sometimes, all it takes is a team of 10-year-olds from a small town north of Toronto. And a little hard work.
After Dallyn Telford and the other coaches of the Major Atom A Orillia Terriers concluded tryouts in April, they got together with the parents of the players to discuss an idea they had. They wanted to begin teaching and coaching over the summer. But it wasn’t hockey skills they wanted to teach them. It was life skills.
So the players and parents agreed that the kids would each work 40 hours over the summer, for $5 an hour, doing odd jobs for parents, neighbors, grandparents and others. Then when they came together for the beginning of their season, they would pool their money toward a worthy cause.
Some players ended up putting in 60-plus hours over the summer. From washing cars, weeding flowerbeds and babysitting, to splitting wood in 40 degree weather, the players did a little bit of everything.
While the players were working away, it was the coaches' job to find a worthy cause to donate the money to. “They kind of went and ran with it,” Telford said. “We found Grayson at the end of July, and since then everything has really ramped up. They know it’s for real, and talking to a few of the parents on our team, the motivation has gone through the roof since we found the family.”
Grayson Gillespie was born Nov. 9, 2008 at Orillia Soldiers’ Memorial Hospital. After being delivered, he was flown immediately to Toronto SickKids Hospital where he was diagnosed with Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome (HLHS), a rare and complex congenital heart defect where the left side of the heart is extremely underdeveloped. He received his first life-saving surgery just hours after being born. His second open-heart surgery was performed before he was nine months old. The third and final surgery normally takes place between 18 months and three years old. Grayson has never had it.
At about two years old, Grayson went into heart failure. He had several strokes and developed a seizure disorder. It was at this time that doctors told Grayson’s family his heart wouldn’t support him and they wouldn’t be able to perform the final surgery required to fix it. He needed a heart transplant.
On June 15, 2011, Grayson received his new heart. And now, five years later, Grayson is a happy, healthy seven-year-old boy. "He's always had a love for playing hockey outside, and in the house," said his mother, Natalie. “He's pretty much a normal kid."
A lifetime of barriers, medication and visits to doctors lies ahead of him. Grayson needs to take medication for the rest of his life to prevent his body from rejecting the transplanted heart, as well as medication to control his seizures. And there is always the risk of rejection, even with the medication he takes.
So the kids aspired to give him a night with his family that he will cherish for the rest of his life. They decided to use the money they raised to send him and his parents to a Toronto Maple Leafs game, including renting a limo to take them and getting a hotel for them after the game.
“He’s ecstatic, you couldn’t wipe the smile off his face,” Telford said.
“It’s a live hockey game and Grayson is going to be over the moon,” Natalie said.
For Telford, the reward came when Grayson met the Terriers team before one of their games this season. Telford hopes this experience leaves an impression on his players as much as it does on Grayson. “I hope they learn how lucky they are to be able to play the game they love,” Telford said. “If a hockey team can give a little bit back…what better way to do it than with something like this."