Although his recovery will take time, and he is still suffering the effects of his injury, Anthony MacDonald’s story of resilience and the community’s response are inspiring in every sense of the word.
A little more than a week after undergoing emergency brain surgery, the SAERC hockey player arrived at the Allan J. MacEachen Airport in Port Hawkesbury last Thursday.
Because of his head injury, it was a quiet, but happy, welcome home.
Not just the local area, his father Mark MacDonald support has come from former residents of the area touched by his son’s story.
During a hockey practice on November 10 at the Port Hawkesbury Civic Centre, 15-year-old Anthony was hit in the head with a puck and taken to the Strait-Richmond Hospital, then later airlifted via the Emergency Health Services LifeFlight to the IWK Children’s Hospital in Halifax.
Mark confirmed that his son was on the ice, not wearing a helmet, when he was hit by a shot, and he implored hockey players of all ages and sizes to keep their helmets on at all times when they are on the ice.
A CT scan confirmed a skull fracture and bleeding on his brain. Later that day, Anthony was taken into surgery, then remained sedated to minimize brain activity and allow the injured organ to heal properly.
The operation was successful but his doctors predicted a long and complicated recovery that could last up to two months.
But on November 13, Mark posted that Anthony was awake, he was off most of his medications and his breathing tube was removed.
Four days later, Mark reported that Anthony was walking around, and would be released on November 19.
Pilot Dimitri Neonakis with the charity Dream Wings – an organization which offers flights to children with disabilities – flew Anthony and Mark home.
According to Aucoin, a former resident of the area reached out to Neonakis, told him Anthony’s story. After the pilot agreed to shuttle him home, they then reached out to the MacDonald family, then received approval from doctors at the IWK to take the flight.
The pilot said Anthony wore a special headset to muffle sound and they flew at a low level to avoid the pressure of high altitudes. He said Anthony even received a flying lesson.
Aucoin noted it was important that Anthony fly home, since the jostling and noise from driving on the highway isn’t easy on head injuries.
During this trying time, Mark said the family was in close contact with the staff at SAERC, especially his hockey and basketball teammates, and Anthony’s co-workers at Tim Horton’s reached out. Anthony’s teammates paid him a visit with signs of encouragement for him to view from his hospital window.
Aucoin said he had tears in his eyes when the plane carrying MacDonald finally touched down, noting the outpouring of support for the MacDonald family makes him proud to be from Port Hawkesbury.
Port Hawkesbury Mayor Brenda Chisholm-Beaton was also at the airport to welcome Anthony and called him “brave.” She added thanks to Neonakis and his wife Lara, as well as Aucoin for helping organize the welcome.
Not just the Strait area, Mark said his and their family have received a lot of moral support from the athletic community, including none other than hockey superstar and Nova Scotian Sidney Crosby, as well as another future hall of famer, Patrick Kane.
He also received kind words from Bob MacKenzie, Pierre LeBrun, Darren Pang, Craig Simpson, Ray Ferraro, Cassie Campbell-Pascall, James Duthie, and David Amber.
The biggest was a video from former NHLer and Port Hawkesbury resident Aaron Johnson who’s known Anthony since he was a little boy.
Recalling the doctor’s comparison of Anthony’s recovery to a journey, Aucoin said he has surpassed expectations by walking so soon.
Mark said despite this early progress, Anthony’s recovery will take time. He is scheduled to return to Halifax for an MRI and a CAT Scan on December 17. Until at least the new year, Anthony will not be attending school.
The father explained that piece of Anthony’s skull remains dislodged and the swelling in his brain is still going down. Once the swelling is finished, doctors will then re-attach the bone flap.
A GoFundMe page was also created to help out what Mark described as a long road to recovery. It can be found at: https://ca.gofundme.com/f/h3pmhd-anthonys-road-to-recovery.
When Anthony was struck, and bleeding and swelling in the brain was detected, then he was sent for emergency surgery, things appeared dire. Messages and prayers flooded social media, people prayed and hoped, and the family was inundated with well wishes and offers of support.
But Anthony woke up, Anthony started walking, then Anthony got into an airplane and flew home, just 10 days after being hit in the head with a puck.
And now Anthony is in the embrace of a family that loves him, living in a community that cares for him beyond measure, combining for an unbreakable support system.
The way Anthony fought and continues to fight is truly inspiring, equally so is the way the region sprung to action.