By all accounts, Gander teenager Thomas Hedges is a tough kid.
Afterall, it isn’t often a Grade 9 student (now a Grade 10 student) breaks his arm in three places and reacts as if he just discovered a random nosebleed.
So, when Thomas told his coach, and father, Rick Sheppard, that he had to leave the ice after hurting his head during a freak play at the Steele Hotels Provincial Midget B Hockey Championships, Sheppard knew something had to be wrong.
He texted Thomas’ mother, Tina Hedges, who was in the stands watching.
“One of Thomas’ teammates had scored. After the goal, Thomas opened his arms to hug the player, but you know how players jump into the boards after they score? Well, the player did that to Thomas, and Thomas was expecting a hug, and the two of them wiped out…just went flat,” said Tina of the play that left her son concussed. “The others gathered around to see if they were alright, and Thomas jumped right back up and skated to the bench.”
Tina said she was “shocked” to see her son skate to the bench after the collision, but didn’t think about it after seeing him play a few shifts after the incident.
However, after she got a text from Sheppard, she knew Thomas’ condition was worst than originally expected.
“The next thing I know Rick is texting me from the bench saying Thomas has a headache, and he was coming off. He gets migraines from dehydration, but not very often, because he really keeps on top of it,” said Tina. “I thought, okay, this is a hockey tournament, so maybe he didn’t drink enough, so I went down to see him thinking that’s what it was. We quickly realized that wasn’t it.”
Tina and Thomas suffer the same type of migraine. Before the pain kicks in, there’s a numbness and tingling sensation the two feel in their hands, and their vision gets a little funny.
When those symptoms go away, the pain kicks in.
Thomas felt a little numb, but he was also feeling other symptoms that scared Tina so much she knew a trip to the hospital was inevitable.
“When I saw him first, he felt a little numb…but he said he didn’t have a headache. We couldn’t really figure it out, but then he said he was dizzy, he was stomach sick, he was confused, and he said he couldn’t think straight,” said Tina. “We then realized he lost his memory after he got hit…he has no memory of the few shifts he played after the hit. That was scary, and that’s when we realized we had to go to the hospital.”
Thomas remembers the play that resulted in him hitting his head off the ice.
Although he skated to the bench on his own, and although he felt good enough to continue playing, he doesn’t remember the extra shifts he played.
He vaguely remembers talking to his father on the bench, and the next thing he knew, he was back in the dressing room with his mother.
“I played a few shifts after the incident, but I don’t remember those. I remember telling my Dad I had to get off the ice because I couldn’t play anymore, and the next thing I remember is being in the dressing room knowing something was wrong,” said Thomas. “I remember talking to my Mom in the dressing room about going to the hospital, and everything after that is pretty clear.”
“I used to be a nurse, but this was hands down the most scared I’ve been for him.” - Tina Hedges
Thomas and Tina left the Gander Community Centre as the Flyers continued their game.
It’s only a short drive, but something else happened on the way there that made Tina further believe Thomas’ injury was not migraine related.
“When we were driving to the hospital, the boy who hit him was texting him saying, ‘I hope you’re okay, we really need you tomorrow.’ I asked Thomas what he said, and Thomas said, ‘He really needs us tomorrow.’ I asked him four times what he said, and Thomas kept saying, ‘He really needs us tomorrow,’ and he was almost getting frustrated with me because I wasn’t getting what he was saying,” said Tina. “So I asked him, ‘Do you mean they really need you tomorrow?’ When I corrected him, he sort of sighed, and it was like he was a little frustrated at himself. I asked him if he texted him back, but he said, ‘I can’t do that right now.’”
Shortly after the texting incident, Thomas and Tina arrived at the hospital in Gander, where Thomas continued to show signs that he wasn’t his old self.
There was a television on in the waiting room, but Thomas just sat there with his head in his hands.
After seeing the doctor, it was determined that Thomas suffered a Grade 2 concussion, and he couldn’t play the rest of the provincial tournament.
A few days after the incident, Thomas returned to school, where the side effects followed.
Unlike Glovertown’s Abigail Hiscock (whose story ran in last week’s Beacon), Thomas wasn’t suffering from daily headaches, or headaches in general.
He simply couldn’t concentrate, and it was frustrating him.
“I did get a headache, and it was probably the worst headache I’ve ever gotten, and my neck was really sore for about a week after. I found it hard to concentrate, and I was having a hard time in school answering questions,” said Thomas. “It was weird.”
Thomas continued to fight through the confusion, and little by little, he started to feel better.
On April 22, he was close to 100 per cent, but was still having difficulty concentrating in school.
The incident was a scary thing for Thomas and his family to go through, but like everybody who goes through it, it was also an eye-opening experience.
“I used to be a nurse, but this was hands down the most scared I’ve been for him,” said Tina.
Thomas will talk about his injury and what he went through — or what he remembers — because he feels it’s important that other people know about the symptoms.
“It’s important to talk about it so other people know about the symptoms, and they know what to look for if something happens to them,” said Thomas. “If anybody hurts their head, whether it’s sports related or not, and if they experience those symptoms, they have to get it checked out.”