Ask Rees Degenhardt if wishes come true.
Without saying a thing, he’ll tell you they do. The smile that’s been plastered on his face since meeting his idol Alex Burrows speaks for itself.
Thanks to the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Northern Alberta, Rees and his family were at Rogers Arena on Sunday, November 20, 2011, to watch the Vancouver Canucks beat the Ottawa Senators 2-1 in overtime.
The game, ended by Chris Higgins 2:18 into the extra session, was thrilling. What followed for Rees was breathtaking.
Rewind a few days to the Degenhardt family arriving in Vancouver. Coming from Sylvan Lake, Alberta, which sits bulls-eye in the middle of enemy territory between Calgary and Edmonton, the family landed and was right away taken aback by many things. Like the Skytain. And the Seabus.
Living in a small town of just over 11,000 people, the Degenhardts naturally gravitated to what they don’t have. Their week also included visits to Grouse Mountain, the Capilano Suspension Bridge, the Vancouver Aquarium, Granville Island and Science World; lifelong family memories were made, but Rees’ mind was focused on a five-minute portion of the trip that was yet to come.
After watching the Canucks dethrone the Senators, Rees and family were brought down to the dressing room where they waited for Burrows, Rees’ hero. When he emerged and introduced himself to everyone, Rees, drowning in a blue Burrows jersey with a hoodie underneath, untied DC shoes, disheveled hair and a massive foam finger engulfing his right hand, was speechless.
So was Rees’ mother Christa, who trembled and fought back tears of happiness.
Ask Christa if wishes come true and she’ll now tell you yes.
Rees’ meeting with Burrows came a mere 114 days after he flipped an ATV down a 12-foot embankment in Oliver, BC, on July 29th. Although Rees was wearing a helmet, he fractured his skull; he went though three hospitals in BC before being medevacked to Red Deer, Alberta. In a cruel twist to an already potentially tragic story, Rees contracted bacterial meningitis and was sent to the Stollery Children's Hospital in Edmonton where he underwent an eight-hour surgery to save his life.
On October 27th, Rees’ 10th CT scan came back completely clear and he was given permission to take part in light physical activity like swimming, jogging and walking. That list, to the relief of Rees, includes skating, with a helmet.
When returning to hockey was the furthest thing from Rees’ mind and life was being lived one day at a time, he expressed a wish to meet Burrows. The Make-A-Wish Foundation of Northern Alberta made that a reality and when faced with his idol, Rees took full advantage.
Burrows, being the genuinely nice guy he is, extended the picture-posing, autograph-signing meet-and-greet to a private tour of the dressing room for Rees and his family.
After Rees sat in Roberto Luongo’s locker and jokingly put on his pads for a photo, he turned from shy fan to investigative reporter flipping his notebook open to reveal 12 questions he came up with the night before.
Rees: “Can you tell the Sedins apart?” (Burrows: Yes, but it took time)
“What’s your favourite activity other than hockey?” (Golf)
“Who was your favourite hockey player growing up?” (Patrick Roy)
“Who are your favourite linemates?” (Hank & Danny/Higgins & Kesler)
Rees did more than close his notebook when finished, he closed a chapter of his life. Returning to normalcy will take time, but he’s taking steps every day and the Degenhardts are finally beginning to heal.
“Nothing makes a mother’s heart happier than seeing her child’s eyes light up when he sees his hero,” said Christa, eyes welling up with tears.
“About the end of September is when I actually started dealing with the grief. It’s only been in the last two weeks that I don’t cry daily. It’s now about every two or three days I have a cry. It was the beginning of October before it really set in that we can really close to losing him this summer.”
Thankfully, wishes came true for both mother and son.