The 11-year-old peewee hockey player, affectionately known as “Jag,” was set to drop the ceremonial first puck on Saturday for the Campbellton Tigers and the hometown Truro Bearcats.
As he waited for the red carpet to be rolled out onto the ice, Jag smiled and spoke with everyone who came over to congratulate him.
For his entire life, the boy has battled cystic fibrosis (CF) and has never let it get the best of him. On Saturday, it was announced he’d been granted his wish from the Children’s Wish Foundation.
“He played two games of hockey today,” his grandmother, Karen Faulkner, said. “He’s very tired – he’s been quiet for the last few hours. Butterflies in his stomach, I think.”
When it finally came time to head out, Jag looked around at the crowded rink with an excited smile. He shook hands with Bearcats captain Jimmy Soper, who presented him with a Bearcats jacket. Public address announcer Danny Carter told Jag’s story, and how he’d be heading off on a Disney cruise.
For his grandmother, it hasn’t always been easy. But for Jag, life with CF is the only life he’s known. When asked how it bothers him, he shakes his head.
“It doesn’t,” he said.
The disease affects the lungs primarily, but also takes a toll on the pancreas, liver, kidneys and intestines. It can cause difficulty breathing, as well as a build up of mucus in the chest, resulting in lung infections. A person with CF can expect a shorter life, but if maintained right, can enjoy life to the fullest.
And that’s what Jag does.
A centre with the Bearcats peewee team, the boy has dreams of someday playing professional hockey, or maybe coaching. When asked what the best part of hockey is, he smiled his trademark, wide grin.
“Scoring a goal.”
Hockey has been a way for Jag to keep his condition under control, staying active, healthy and happy.
“That’s why we started him in hockey,” Faulkner said. “To keep his lungs going and keep them from getting clogged up.”
She thinks back to when he was diagnosed at just three months old and the uncertainty they faced.
“It was terrible. We didn’t know what to expect,” she said. “I wasn’t familiar with (CF), or sure what would happen.”
They spent the first month at the IWK, where doctors and nurses laid out what would become Jag’s daily routine. He takes pills for his pancreas before he eats. He uses a mask twice a day to clear his airways, and takes an inhaler as well.
“At his age, he doesn’t really want to do it,” his grandmother said. “He doesn’t want to take his pills all the time, but you have to do it.”
Through Dale Ling with the local branch of the Children’s Wish Foundation, Jag was given a choice of anything he wanted. It was a toss-up between the Disney cruise and a skate with the Montreal Canadiens – his favourite hockey team. With the Habs mired in a tough season, Jag chose the seven-day cruise instead.
“With the Children’s Wish, there’s not too many wishes we can’t grant,” Ling said. “They come up with amazing things and come through.”
As Jag walked off the ice on Saturday, his grandmother beamed with pride.
“We’re very grateful and thankful to the Wish Foundation for granting him his wish,” she said. “From the bottom of our hearts.”