N.S. teen forced to end hockey career after suffering fourth concussion
Published Friday, February 16, 2018 12:37PM AST
Last Updated Friday, February 16, 2018 2:42PM AST
A Nova Scotia teen has played his last game of competitive hockey after suffering his fourth concussion during a game in Sydney last weekend.
Rowan Sears was about to receive a pass late in the first period when he took an elbow to the head from an opposing player.
“At first it was just kind of dizziness,” says Sears. “My head was hurting a little bit.”
The Weeks Major Midgets player tried to stay on the ice for a power play, but quickly realized he was injured and left for the change room.
“I came sort of through the door, he was just sitting on the floor, a wreck, and just picked him up and got him into a chair,” says his mother, Jill Sears. “I just wanted to see him for myself because I knew exactly if I took one look at him, I would know.”
“At the rink it was pretty emotional because I knew that if I had got one more concussion, I’d probably be done,” says Rowan Sears. “So when I got back to the hotel, I was just thinking, is it really going to be over? Is this it?”
At just 17 years old, the Brookfield, N.S. teen has had four concussions – a big concern for emergency room physician Dr. Paul Doucette, who says multiple concussions can impact a growing brain.
“Concussion is an injury to the brain, and that’s bad enough, but with more than one concussion we know that it takes longer and longer for the brain to return to its normal state,” says Doucette.
“There’s a suspicion that it may actually cause permanent changes after a number of concussions, such that the calculation, the ability to think, are affected permanently.”
Andrew Sears says his son has suffered one too many concussions and the chance of him returning to the ice to play competitive hockey is slim.
“I would say zero,” says Andrew. “Competitively, like contact hockey, competitive hockey, probably never.”
In an emotional message posted on Facebook after the game, the teen’s mother said her son has “lived and breathed hockey since he was 3 years old.” Rowan echoes that sentiment, saying giving up hockey feels like he’s giving up a part of himself.
“I’ve just spent so much time on it. I’ve put so much into it and now it’s gone, so it’s pretty disappointing.”
Jill Sears posted the Facebook message to share her son’s story, but also to call on hockey officials to dish out stiffer penalties, including game suspensions, for hits to the head.
“It won't change what has happened to Rowan, but it may prevent cumulative concussions from hits to the head from happening to someone else's son or daughter,” she said.
Jill’s Facebook post sparked a discussion about how much contact is reasonable in the sport and also opened the floodgates for other families suffering in silence.
“They have messaged me personally to tell me their story – a dad from Seafoam whose daughter plays Bantam A, female hockey, no contact, who’s had two concussions,” she says. “I’ve had a mom from Dartmouth whose son is 14; he resigned from hockey this week because he was suffering from the effects of concussions from intentional hits.”
The Sears family has also reached out to Hockey Nova Scotia, which confirms it is looking into the issue.
“Next year there will be new rules instituted where three head-shot penalties, whether they’re minors or double minors, will institute an automatic game misconduct,” says Darren Cossar, the executive director of Hockey Nova Scotia.
In the meantime, Rowan is doing physio and focusing on another sport he loves.
“I play ball so I got lots to do there, lots of training ahead, so that’s keeping me happy.”
If he’s feeling up to it, Rowan will head to Saskatchewan this summer to compete in the 2018 Junior Men’s World Softball Championships.
With files from CTV Atlantic's Emily Baron-Cadloff