One day after being discharged from hospital, Tim Bozon was exactly where he wanted to be.
The Kootenay Ice forward stepped back into his home arena and took part in game-day preparations with his team before dropping the puck in a ceremonial face off to a thunderous standing ovation.
His team went on to beat the Calgary Hitmen 5-3, clinching their first playoff round win in over two years.
“It was huge, obviously, it meant a lot,” said Bozon, a signed prospect with the Montreal Canadiens. “It’s probably my last time here so to see the boys one more time—I had such a great time with them, such great people and for sure, to get to see the rink one more time—I had lots of fun.
“It was such an emotional night and it feels good too, mentally, after all I went through, so it was really good.”
His voice is a little raspy, and he’s lost weight, but the Ice forward seems in good spirits.
“I feel way better than a couple weeks ago,” said Bozon. “If I’m out of the hospital, that means I’m ready to go, I guess. Not that I’m 100 per cent, not that I’m feeling great…but I’m doing way better. I see improvement every day and it feels good.”
Bozon flies out on Tuesday to Montreal to meet with staff from the Canadiens, before heading back home to France to begin his rehabilitation after spending the last month in a Saskatoon hospital battling meningitis.
Meningitis is the swelling of the protective membranes surrounding the brain and the spinal cord caused by bacteria, viruses or micro-organisms, and can be fatal, if left untreated.
Though he has made incredible strides in the initial stages of physiotherapy, his dad, Philippe, cautions it will take time to make a complete recovery.
“We have to be really careful now that things don’t go too fast and the rehab has to be well-balanced so that he doesn’t have too many bad days, but the doctor told us that would happen and we just have to be patient with that,” said Philippe, a former professional hockey player.
“Right now we have a positive energy going and it’s really hopeful for us looking forward.”
Bozon will be staying in a facility with all the necessary doctors and medication for the next two or three weeks, before moving to another rehab centre closer to home.
All of that is, of course, is dependent on his progress.
“You cannot give time, but he’s got time in front of him and hopefully he can work everything and get back to 100 per cent recovery,” added Philippe.
A month ago, on Feb. 28th, Bozon helped lead the Ice to victory with a goal in a 4-2 come-from-behind win over the Saskatoon Blades during a road trip through Saskatchewan.
The next day, he was admitted to hospital.
It wasn’t a sudden calamity that sparked the trip to the emergency room, but Bozon hadn’t been feeling well for much of the night after the Blades game, even after taking medication and eventually getting some sleep.
Ice athletic therapist Cory Cameron stayed in contact with team doctors throughout the night and when Bozon woke up in the morning in pain, he knew something was off.
“The interactions I started having with him then was…it wasn’t right,” Cameron said. “I’m trained to deal with sickness and muscle injuries and all that kind of stuff, but maybe it’s a little bit of an instinct when you just know that things just weren’t right.
“…The way he was acting, the responsiveness of him to me when I was speaking to him wasn’t where it needed to be and that’s when I made the decision and knew we needed more help.”
They got to Royal University Hospital at roughly 8:30 a.m. Less than two hours later, doctors had discovered bacteria in Bozon’s spinal fluid, which narrowed down the eventual diagnosis to Neisseria meningitis.
“It was pretty rapid. They knew what was going on pretty quick,” said Cameron.
Within a matter of hours, the medical team had him on a breathing machine and eventually into a medically-induced coma.
A day later, Bozon’s parents—Philippe and Helene—were at his side, flying in a continent away from their home in France.
After 13 long days, doctors—including neurologist Gary Hunt—worked to slowly wake him. He was soon responding to verbal stimuli and stabilized, improving from critical condition.
Within the next week, Bozon was moved out of ICU and into one of the hospital wards, where he was awake, moving around in his bed and trying to talk and feed himself.
It would be another week and a half of treatment and physiotherapy before Bozon was officially discharged after an emotional press conference on Friday with his dad, Hunt and his agent at his side.
“His progress since he left the ICU has been really amazing so I think his prognosis is really excellent,” said Hunt.
Hunt was unable to provide a cause for how Bozon contracted meningitis, noting it is uncommon in young, healthy people, and that the particular strain of Neisseria meningitis is even more uncommon.
“We don’t have a good reason for why he contracted it besides bad luck, really,” Hunt said.
While he was undergoing treatment, the hockey world across North American and Europe rallied to him, sending everything from messages of support on social media to gifts of blankets and fruit baskets. Teams from across the WHL also had placards signed by fans and delivered to him and his family.
“It’s been huge. Surprising, too,” Bozon said. “You can tell that the hockey world is such a hockey family. The Saskatoon Blades, since day one, took care of me like I was one of their players.
“They did not have to do that and they took care of me and Kootenay, the players obviously got a lot of messages from them, lots of messages from the league and other teams.
“You can tell that it is a rivalry in the league but you’re still human, still a hockey player and it’s really emotional to see that.”
Road To Recovery
Though Bozon has been released from hospital and has made encouraging progress, there is still a long road to recovery. There have been steep medical costs incurred during his stay at the hospital in Saskatoon, and there will be further costs to cover rehabilitation down the road.
The WHL has established a trust fund for the family, and donations can be made at any BMO Bank of Montreal location in the provinces of B.C., Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba.