Hockey World Rallies to Support Payton Bruns
By Scott Lowe - MYHockeyRankings.com
It’s not possible to determine which is more amazing: the speed at which Chicago Young Americans 18U forward Payton Bruns is recovering from serious injuries to his spinal cord suffered Sept. 29 or the outpouring of love, prayers and support he has received from the hockey community during the past several weeks.
Figuring that out isn’t really important, though. What matters is that his rapid recovery continues, he is scheduled to head home for good this weekend and the North American hockey family came through again to support one of its own in a time of need.
On Sept. 29 Payton was chasing a loose puck like he probably has hundreds of times during his hockey career. He was in a race with an opposing defenseman, who dove in an effort to get the puck out of the zone. Somehow Payton lost an edge and slid headfirst into the boards.
Anyone involved in hockey who has ever been in a rink when a serious injury occurs knows the fearful groan that engulfs the rink when the players and fans know something bad has happened. There’s usually no gray area; pretty much everyone realizes right away that the situation is not good, and there is a collective pit in the stomachs and lump in the throats of all those who witness it.
Payton was transported as quickly as possible to Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge, Ill., where it was determined that he had fractured two vertebrae on his spinal cord. Emergency surgery was performed almost immediately. Social media posts informed us of what had happened, asking for prayers, support and respect for the family’s privacy.
“An injury like this isn’t just a parent or coach’s worst nightmare,” said Chicago Young Americans President Jason Ori, who was with Payton and his family within hours of the incident and has spent time with them almost every day since. “It’s everybody’s worst nightmare. They had tubes in him and systems running and he was in surgery within two or three hours of the injury and out by 6:30 the next morning. He was highly sedated and had so many drugs in him. They had blood pressure drugs in him to keep his blood pressure high and help with his circulation. He was pale white and really couldn’t move any body parts.”
Within days the Overland Park Vikings hockey program, where Payton played before moving on to the AAA Young Americans, had posted a GoFundMe page that to date has generated more than $90,000 in donations to assist with the family’s medical expenses. Not long after that teammates decided to create and sell bracelets to help raise money.
There are red bracelets with white lettering and white bracelets with blue lettering that are inscribed with “Brunzy Strong” and “#PB83.” You can purchase one for $5, three for $10 or 20 for $80 by sending an email to PB83fundraiser@yahoo.com.
“His teammates responded like champions,” Ori said. “They were coming to the hospital to see him and fundraising by selling bracelets and t-shirts at the rink and in school. Within 24 hours they had raised a few grand by selling bracelets and other stuff. He was one of the leaders of the team, so this was a big thing to them. He’s the kind of kid you love to have on the team – a player’s player and a kid the parents wanted their kids to hang out with. It was amazing to see all the kids and the heart they and the whole staff have for him. It was really nice to see everybody rally around Payton and his family with a massive amount of love and support.”
Thanks to social media word spread quickly about Payton’s injury, and the support started pouring in – from Young Americans’ alumni, the Chicago Blackhawks and their alumni, Western Michigan University, other local hockey clubs, his coaches, teammates and team parents. His room was soon full of Black Hawks paraphernalia and cookies baked by well-wishers. Even USA Hockey President Jim Smith dropped in to make sure all of the insurance paperwork was taken care of properly so that Payton’s parents Bryan and Kristen could just focus on their son and his recovery.
The Chicago Young Americans’ 16U Twitter account (@CYA16U) has been the conduit of news about Payton for the past three-plus weeks, and a quick glance at the team’s timeline provides a great barometer for both his remarkable recovery and the incredible public support he has received.
The news has progressed from an initial tweet informing us of the horrific injury and two updates the next day celebrating “minor movement” in his appendages to the most recent post Oct. 22 which reads, “9/29 accident date. 10/26 P is going home for good & will continue outpatient rehab work 3 days a wk. Strong, resilient, exemplary, miraculous, gritty…the list goes on. Thank you for your prayers.”
The near-daily updates have described incremental improvements from Payton regaining movement in his fingers, toes, arms and legs to his sitting up to give mom a hug, a trip to the movies, walking with a walker, walking on his own, climbing stairs and spending a day at home. Those updates are mixed in with heartwarming tweets of support from around the continent, fundraising efforts by youth teams, photos of teams praying together and photos of people everywhere wearing their “Jerseys for Payton.”
“There were people wearing jerseys to support Payton in Toronto, across the United States and across Canada,” Ori said. “Everybody was supporting him, even football teams. It was crazy the outpouring and how the hockey world has just rallied around him.”
Oh, and then there is this cool video of Payton actually stickhandling on Oct. 17. That was fewer than 10 days after he had been transferred to Shirley Ryan AbilityLab in downtown Chicago for more intensive rehab.
“They have a Blackhawks room for the kids who are there,” Ori said “The facility is off the charts. It looks like something from the future. They were great with Payton. Most places they would have been like, ‘What is this? What is he doing? No, give that stick back.’ Instead they were like, ‘Let him shoot balls off the wall if he wants.’ When I saw him doing that I thought it was the craziest thing I’d ever seen. I can’t believe the recovery this kid is making.”
The Twitter timeline starts by evoking tears of sadness and concern, as anyone who has had a child, brother, sister or other family member playing hockey understands that this type of injury is everyone’s worst fear. And as the story unfolds, it continues to bring tears – this time of joy and appreciation – but also it elicits smiles as we see Payton improve on a daily basis and realize what a special, close-knit family the hockey community is.
One member of the Chicago hockey community who has been an unsung hero during Payton’s recovery is Orland Park Vikings Hockey Director Nick Pollos. Pollos watched Payton grow up on the ice playing for the Vikings. Payton’s brothers Cameron, Logan and Devin currently play for Orland Park, and Pollos has been making sure the boys have rides to practices and school and that they are being fed so the parents can focus on Payton.
“Nicky picks them up and takes them to the rink,” Ori said. “Then he’ll make sure they are fed and keeps them at the rink for four or five hours sometimes to keep them busy and keep their minds off of everything.”
Like any sport, hockey offers so many great things to its participants, and nothing good in life seems to come without some inherent risk. Many of us with kids playing hockey go to the rink and simply push the possibility of a serious injury happening out of our minds much like a person who doesn’t like to fly represses that feeling from takeoff to landing.
The reality is that this type of injury could happen to anyone at any time on the ice, and more times than not is the product of something fluky or unexpected and not a result of anyone’s malicious intent. That makes the possibility even scarier since there is no way of telling when something crazy might happen on the ice during in such a physical, high-speed sport.
There is great comfort, however, in knowing that there is such an understanding and supportive group of people throughout the hockey world. We saw how the hockey community rallies most recently with the Humboldt Broncos tragedy. And every October the hockey world comes together en masse to support the ongoing fight against cancer. Those of us who have been a part of the hockey community for many years see the camaraderie in less-obvious ways on a more regular basis.
This spirit and togetherness throughout the hockey community have been cultivated among hockey players for over a century. Every spring we watch in amazement as grown men who have been beating each other’s brains out for seven games shake hands and hug in a show of mutual respect.
Likewise, as hockey families, we all face similar challenges and bring similar fears to the rink every day – which also creates an unspoken bond. For most of us, hockey represents a huge time and financial commitment. The sport isn’t cheap at any level. The equipment alone sets a family back at least a few hundred dollars, and then there are tuition and travel expenses. And frequently, along with that financial commitment, there are early practices, late practices and countless hours in the car traveling to rinks for practices and games.
Anyone who has been involved in the sport as a player or supporting family member has embraced this commitment and the sacrifices that come along with it. With hockey being a smaller community than most other sports – at least in the United States – the uniqueness of the experience creates a bond and empathy among participating families that doesn’t exist in most other extracurricular activities.
That bond and sense of community are enhanced by today’s technology and the presence of social media. Our successes, failures, joy, sorrow and pain can be shared instantly with hundreds, thousands or even millions of people. While social media and technology can be evil and bring out the worst in many of us, in times of emergency or crisis it also can help restore our faith in society.
For a family facing everyone’s worst nightmare to have so many people sending their love, prayers and support – and maybe even hearing from folks who have been through a similar experience – while being able to maintain privacy, has to be comforting. And for a young adult potentially facing the fight of his life, the public outpouring has to be incredibly inspiring and something to draw strength from.
Technology also provides the family with the means to keep their friends, family and supporters informed on the progress being made without having to rehash it over and over, which can be mentally and emotionally exhausting. And it allows them a streamlined way to share their appreciation for all the support.
Even in writing this story, it was important to respect the Bruns family’s privacy and allow them to continue putting all their time and energy into supporting Payton’s recovery. But we have heard from his brother Cameron a few times via social media. First, there was a compilation of photos that he posted from Jerseys for Payton Day, and then he was just able to say thanks to everyone for their support.
Hopefully all goes as planned and Payton continues to make rapid progress. He is scheduled to be go home for good Sunday, Oct. 26 – less than a month after he was injured – and will continue outpatient physical therapy three times a week. Without having spoken to him or his family, I’m sure the goal is for him to return to the ice and continue to play the sport he loves if at all possible.
“They are releasing him to go home early,” Ori said. “Can you believe that? He told me, ‘Mr. Ori, I’m going to walk into the rink in the next few weeks and start bothering you again.’”
Well, if the last few weeks are any indication, he will be back on the ice before he knows it. And we will be there with him every step of the way.
Get well Payton!
To get an idea of how the hockey community responds to a family member in need, please find below a compilation of social media posts that chronicle Payton’s amazing recovery to date along with some of the posts of support and encouragement that have come in from all over North America during the past three-plus weeks.
Timeline of Recovery
Initial Facebook post by Orland Park Vikings Youth Hockey:
Initial Twitter post from @CYA16U:
@CYA16U Twitter update Sept. 30 9:52: some minor movement fingers, hands, & left leg/toes:
@CYA16U Twitter update Sept. 30 5:45 p.m.: some movement in arms, fingers, hands & minor leg/toe movement
@CYA16U Twitter update Oct. 1: restful night, more movement fingers, hands, arms, toes:
@CYA16U Twitter update Oct. 2: arms, left leg stronger, slight movement in right leg, feels everything to the touch and breathing stabilizing
@CYA16U Twitter update Oct. 2: good spirits, dictated messages to friends
@CYA16U Twitter update Oct. 3: thanks for your support of Payton
@CYA16U Twitter update Oct. 3: move arms and legs and hold leg up
Today is Jersey Day for Payton Oct. 3
@CYA16U Twitter update Oct. 4: hand, wrist & arm movement improves
@CYA16U Twitter update Oct. 5: sleepy, blood pressure meds to help healing of spinal cord
@CYA16U Twitter Oct. 6 update: PT IVs out and off to PT soon at Chicago rehab center
@CYA16U Twitter update Oct. 7: PT, up on feet with a lift
@CYA16U Twitter update Oct. 8 transferred to Shirley Ryan for PT:
@CYA16U Oct. 9 Twitter update: speech test fine, dressed self in wheelchair, stood for 10 seconds
@CYA16U Twitter update Oct. 10: walked with walker & staff near to win bet with team
@CYA16U Twitter update Oct. 11: walked, worked on upper body & threading beads, on social media
@CYA16U Twitter update Oct. 12 moving between bed & chairs, watching TV
@CYA16U Twitter update Oct. 13: went to movies and sat upright to hug mom
@CYA16U Twitter update Oct. 14: band/bracelet fundraiser details
@CYA16U Twitter video Oct. 17 update: PT/stick handling
@CYA16U Twitter update 10/21
@CYA16U Twitter update and bracelet photo 10/22 – going home soon!
Social Media Support for Payton
Spartans Hockey Club JV get well Payton
Jerseys for Payton photos
Orland Park Pee Wee AA sends its support
HV Vikings Youth Hockey Association get-well wishes
Cameron Bruns post of Jerseys for Payton photos after just a few hours
Huskies Hockey Club squirts with jerseys for Payton
Basketball team supports with jerseys for Payton
Huskies Hockey Club Bantams get well Payton
Well-wishes from Cape Cod
Chelsea Tigers #PaytonStrong83
Cylcones Hockey #PaytonStrong83
Steve Curds #PrayersforPayton
Chicago Bulldogs ’09 sends its support
Chicago Hawks 18U sends thoughts to Payton
Chicago Hawks support photos
Spartans Hockey Club get well Payton photo
Chicago Mission & Chicago Fury ’06 take a knee for Payton
Green Bay Jr. Gamblers donate flag & photo
Notre Dame College Prep & MCYHA Sharks support Payton
CYA 15U & Chicago Fury group prayer for Payton
Prep Hockey Club support Payton
CYA 16U & Chicago Mission prayer huddle for Payton
Chicago Hawks squirts donation and support photo
Homewood Flossmor and @CobrasHockey1 supporting Payton
CYA 18U and Chicago Mission – photos together & holding jersey
Team holding jersey photo & shouting “Brunzy” before games
@CyclonesAHA 8U & 10U travel fundraising photo
@Orland Park Vikings squirts #PaytonStrong on stick
Glenview Stars well-wishes
Tri-City Storm Twitter video
Youth hockey well-wisher
@CYA 16U Twitter posts team well-wishes
CYA 13U Tweet wishing Payton well
Payton’s brother Cameron says thanks