One year later: Survivors in Broncos crash continue to heal from injuries

13 players from the Humboldt team are learning to live again, post-crash

The 13 players who survived the Humboldt Broncos bus crash one year ago are dealing with injuries ranging from paralysis and back pain to brain damage and mental-health issues. Here’s a look at how they’re doing:

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Graysen Cameron: The 19-year-old forward from Olds, Alta., can’t play hockey again after suffering back injuries, a concussion and an eye injury. He had surgery in November to remove metal rods and screws in an attempt to improve his mobility.

He has become an assistant coach for the Red Deer Optimist Chiefs, a top-tier, triple-A hockey team in the Alberta Midget Hockey League.

Cameron had played with the team from 2015 to 2017 before joining the Broncos.

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Brayden Camrud: The 20-year-old forward from Saskatoon overcame a severe concussion, loss of feeling in his left arm and neck problems. He also had some cuts on his hands. He has returned to play with the Broncos this season.

“Eventually I overcame everything and I’m here now,” he said in September. “I’d say I’m close to 100 per cent now and good to go.”

Camrud does continue to attend physiotherapy as a result of his injuries.

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Kaleb Dahlgren: The 21-year-old forward from Saskatoon received a fractured skull, a puncture wound in his head, a brain injury and six broken vertebrae in his back and neck. He also had blood clots in one arm and behind one eardrum. He is still in rehabilitation and is seeing a neurologist to determine if he will be able to play competitive hockey. He attends York University in Toronto full time and has committed to play for the university’s Lions hockey team.

“We are unsure if he will ever be able to play hockey again. His entire life revolved around hockey,” his family said in a victim impact statement during a court sentencing hearing in January for the truck driver who caused the crash.

“This accident has certainly turned his life upside down, not to mention that the brain injury significantly slowed his reading ability … We are unsure what the future holds but are thankful Kaleb survived the accident.”

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Bryce Fiske: The 21-year-old defenceman from La Ronge, Sask., suffered a neck fracture, skull fracture, left shoulder fracture and pelvis fracture. His spleen was lacerated and his left lung was punctured. His jaw was fractured in four places. He’s missing two teeth and his tongue was severely injured.

“Currently, Bryce is able to move freely on his own,” said a statement of facts entered at the sentencing hearing. “He has a significant amount of jaw pain and is still in treatment for his injuries.

“The majority of his treatment is for his jaw; he will require at least one more surgery for his jaw to be reconstructed.”

Fiske is studying commerce and playing hockey for the Ridgebacks at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology.

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Morgan Gobeil: The 19-year-old defenceman from Humboldt, Sask., has a traumatic brain injury. He sustained multiple skull fractures, three facial fractures, broken ribs and lacerations to his liver and spleen.

His family said in a statement in March that he spent 333 days in hospital.

“He has endured many medical procedures and hours upon hours of physical, occupational, and speech therapy,” said his parents.

“During his time at the hospital, Morgan has celebrated his high school graduation, his brother’s wedding, his 19th birthday, several holidays and he has witnessed the change of all four seasons.”

He has not yet regained his ability to walk or talk, but the family remains hopeful he will someday experience those milestones.

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Matthieu Gomercic: The 21-year-old forward from Winnipeg had a separated shoulder, a concussion and cuts to his hand and chin. His spleen was enlarged, his teeth shifted and his jaw was slightly displaced. He still gets headaches and has problems with one shoulder. He continues to deal with emotional issues on a daily basis.

“My son remembers moments before the accident and then remembers waking up outside the bus in the middle of this disaster,” his mother, Joanne Girard-Gomercic, wrote in her victim impact statement. “Although he was in a lot of pain, he got up and looked around to see where he was. He was convinced it was a nightmare because he could not believe that what he was seeing was real.

“What he saw and heard that night will affect him for the rest of his life, in ways that are hard to predict.”

Gomercic has joined the Ridgebacks at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology and is studying kinesiology.

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Xavier LaBelle: The 19-year-old defenceman from Saskatoon suffered a fractured skull, facial fractures and deep lacerations, as well as a brain injury that led to post-traumatic amnesia for two weeks. He is to have a followup assessment on his brain injury in April. He has scarring on his face, neck, head, arms and back. The severe facial and other injuries made him unrecognizable after the crash, which resulted in a misidentification that led to further chaos and heartbreak. He continues to undergo surgeries and faces daily challenges.

“As a young man, Xavier has shown unbelievable courage over the last nine months as he comes to terms with his injuries and the terrible loss of so many teammates, friends and mentors,” said his mother, Tanya LaBelle, in her victim impact statement.

“Xavier’s injuries have affected him physically, mentally and emotionally. His goal and dream to play a higher level of hockey through a hockey scholarship was suddenly and brutally taken away from him in the most horrific circumstances.”

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Layne Matechuk: The 19-year-old defenceman from Colonsay, Sask., suffered a severe traumatic brain injury. He had extensive facial fractures and a sternum fracture. Both of his lungs collapsed. He was in a coma for a month and had to learn to walk and talk again, but has left the hospital. He is able to walk, but has a significant limp. He also has difficulty using his one arm due to the brain injury.

“Layne has a traumatic brain injury which has left him to be such a different son than we had before the accident,” his father, Kevin Matechuk, said in his victim impact statement. “He is angry and confused and cannot understand why this has happened and how his life has changed so much.

“These injuries have taken away everything. His dream to play hockey has been taken away.”

The extent of the brain injury is still not known.

READ MORE: ‘She just comforts us:’ Mother says baby named after Broncos player a gift

READ MORE: Humboldt Broncos victims’ families share how crash changed their lives

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Derek Patter: The 20-year-old forward from Edmonton suffered bleeding outside his brain, as well as right shin and fibula fractures, a nasal bone fracture and significant cuts and bruises. He continues to struggle with his leg and a surgeon has recently told him he has more healing to do.

“He has recovered enough to return to playing with the Broncos organization this year,” his parents, Roy and Laurel Patter, said in their victim impact statement. “However, he is reminded daily of the accident by seeing the scars on his face and hands and constant struggles with pain and discomfort.

“Being one of the survivors brings immense stress for such young men: From grieving the loss of the 16 people that they were very, very close with all at once … to dealing with the recovery of their own injuries and the changes in their physical abilities … to watching each other struggle with recovery both mentally and physically while trying to stay strong for each other.”

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Nick Shumlanski: The 21-year-old forward from Tisdale, Sask., sustained a fractured bone behind his ear and a lumbar avulsion fracture, but walked away from the crash. He has been told his ear may never heal but he doesn’t expect that will have a significant effect. His back seems to have healed, but he continues to deal with emotional issues.

“Nick began counselling shortly after his release from the hospital,” said his sister, Sydney Shumlanski, in her victim impact statement. “It has been almost one year since the accident, and he is still unable to get onto a charter bus with his teammates in P.E.I. and go to the away games. He either drives himself to the games or joins someone from the coaching staff.”

Shumlanski is playing hockey for the University of Prince Edward Island Panthers in Charlottetown.

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Tyler Smith: The 20-year-old forward from Leduc, Alta., had two broken ribs, a broken shoulder blade, a broken collarbone and a punctured lung. He had six inches removed from his small intestine due to the injuries. He also had a stroke and is required to take Aspirin daily. He is expected to require annual MRIs.

“Tyler also suffered severe nerve damage to his left shoulder and arm,” said the statement of facts. “He has recovered approximately 90 per cent of the use of his hand, but doctors are unable to say whether he will ever regain 100 per cent use of his hand again.”

Smith returned to play with the Broncos for about a month in the fall, but decided to leave the team to continue his recovery at home.

In a recent interview, he said his physical injuries are nothing compared to the mental-health issues some of his teammates face.

“There are a lot of guys that have to live with the pictures in their minds,” said Smith. “That’s something I would never wish for anybody.”

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Ryan Straschnitzki: The 19-year-old defenceman from Airdrie, Alta., suffered a brain bleed, concussion with memory loss, cracked right shoulder blade and a collapsed right lung. He was paralyzed from the chest down and the injury is expected to be permanent.

“I am beyond heartbroken that my big, beautiful boy will never get to realize his dreams in stand-up hockey,” said his mother, Michelle Straschnitzki, in her victim impact statement.

Straschnitzki played in an exhibition sledge hockey charity game in Calgary in September and is hoping to eventually represent Canada at the Winter Olympics.

His mother said he has vivid memories of the crash.

“Ryan has near-perfect recall of the crash and the ensuing carnage,” she said. “I cry daily over all that was lost that night.”

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Jacob Wassermann: The 19-year-old goalie from Humboldt, Sask., suffered a brain injury, a broken shoulder blade, fractured ribs and nasal bone fractures. Both of his lungs collapsed and a spinal cord injury resulted in paralysis from the naval down.

“It is expected to be a permanent injury,” said the statement of facts. “Moving forward, Jacob’s brain injury will be reassessed after one year, his lungs and broken bones (except for his spine) have healed. He now has two titanium rods and 10 screws in his back which cannot be removed for two years.”

Wassermann attends physiotherapy three times a week to get stronger and learn new ways to live with paralysis.

He has started to have movement in his hips, his father, Kirby Wasserman, said in November.

He has also turned to sledge hockey to keep his on-ice dream alive.

— Compiled by Colette Derworiz in Edmonton

The Canadian Press


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