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  • Monday, January 10, 2000

    Scare of their lives

    By MARK MILLER -- Calgary Sun

     Young Barron Smith felt sick to his stomach.

     His dad lay in the hospital bed, his upper body immobilized by an imposing steel brace.

     He turned to mom Sheri with tears in his eyes.

     "Mom, I never want to play hockey again," said the eight-year-old. "I'm done."

     Hockey was what had put his dad in that hospital bed.

     It was what kept mom up all night in tears, fearing for her husband's health.

     It was what made 10-year-old daughter Alex jump out her seat at the Saddledome the night before, frantically jumping over people to get down to the ice where her dad lay motionless.

     Hockey gave Alex the nightmares that came whenever she tried to close her eyes.

     Yesterday, those fears were eased somewhat when Smitty was able to move his arms and legs, and even walk shakily into the shower.

     But he remained in Foothills Hospital last night because, with any injury to the spinal cord, there are precautions that have to be taken. What's at risk is paralysis.

     Smith will undergo more tests today but despite his reacquiring feeling in his legs and arms, doctors want to ensure there is nothing wrong.

     But the experience has been a nightmare for the Smith family, wife Sheri and kids Alexandria, Barron, Nicole, 5, and Tanner, 3.

     The family visited last night, toting along a burger, fries and shake from Dad's favourite fast food joint -- Peter's Drive-In.

     But the sight of dad only partially immobilized eased the kids' fears.

     "I was a mess when it happened," said Sheri, who was at the game with daughter Alex.

     "Alex was going crazy -- I said to Steve that was the hardest thing. What do you tell your kids?

     "I helped him get up and get a shower. He never slept at all through the night.

     "When I went in at 11 p.m., they had him sitting up a little bit on the bed. His forehead was taped to the bed -- people running around everywhere looking at him -- it was scary.

     "It was like seeing one of those trauma emergency room shows on television -- except we were in it."

     Smith was hurt when teammate Bobby Dollas accidentally collided with him, jamming his head back and hyper-extending the neck.

     Trainer Terry Kane was on the ice quickly, already suspecting the injury.

     "As soon as I saw it, I jumped because I knew almost intuitively what it was -- I don't even know if the whistle had gone," said Kane, who immediately called for the team doctors.

     The Flames medical staff, who practise such protocols, has to be given credit for the speed and skill of their response.

     "He said he couldn't feel his arms or legs and we knew then exactly what we had to do," said Kane.

     Spinal cord injuries can, of course, cause paralysis.

     Those fears have been lessened, but the results of testing are still unknown, as is the extent of Smith's injury.

     He's expected to be released today, pending those test results.

     Whether Smith will play again this season, or if at all, is a decision that can only be made in time.

     Coach Brian Sutter knows what Smith is going through.

     When he played in St. Louis, he was hit in the back of the neck by a Guy Lapointe slapshot.

     "I went down and couldn't feel my arms or legs -- I knew exactly what Steve was going through," said Sutter.

     "I didn't know if I would ever walk again, but after about four hours, the feeling came back.

     "But I remember the worst part was worrying about my wife Judy, who was eight months pregnant with Shaun. It was much worse for her, and my feelings went out to them when I saw Sheri and Alex watching Steve get taken off on the stretcher."

     We'll know better today how Smitty will be -- early indications are he will be OK.

     But that is little consolation to the Smith family. Few of us can imagine what it's like for a son or daughter to see their dad in that condition.

     "I asked Barron what he wants to be now that he doesn't want to play hockey," said mom Sheri of her son's pledge to quit the sport he loves. "He wants to be an astronaut now. Can't he pick something safer?"

     Perhaps his dad's return to health will inspire little Barron Smith to return to hockey.

     But after what he's seen his Dad endure, who can blame him if he doesn't?

     Even an eight-year-old can see no game is that important.
    CALGARY FLAMES



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