Near-death experience

MORRIS DALLA COSTA, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 4:12 PM ET

MITCHELL, Ont. -- It was a decision that almost cost him his life.

Kevin Brown was scheduled to officiate a men's recreation hockey game on Dec. 29 in the midwestern Ontario community of Monkton.

But then he got a call from a fellow official who couldn't work a junior C game between the Woodstock Renegades and New Hamburg Firebirds in Woodstock that night and wanted Brown to fill in.

"The rec games in Monkton paid $60 for two games. The junior game paid $50," Brown said. "I figured junior was better hockey and would help me get better.

"It didn't work out the way it was planned."

Late in the game, after a goal was scored, a melee broke out. Two players began jostling and fighting and fell to the ice. A player's skate caught Brown on the side of the neck, puncturing an artery.

Brown continued to break up the fight until he realized how badly he had been cut. Only the quick action of the training staffs and a nurse who rushed from the seats saved Brown's life. They packed towels around his neck as he was taken to hospital.

Four pints of blood were pumped into his system. Even then his life hung in the balance.

Sometime during the next seven hours, the now 26-year-old suffered a massive stroke affecting the left side of his body. To relieve pressure, doctors removed a large part of the bone that covered the brain.

The section of bone wasn't replaced until May 20.

Brown spoke publicly for the first time this week about the accident.

He is at his farmhouse near Mitchell. He and father Murray farm about 5,500 acres.

Brown recently began work at a farm equipment store in Stratford.

He hasn't been able to work or farm since the accident. Most of his time is spent at medical appointments and rehabbing.

He still limps and is trying to regain the full use of his left arm.

Brown is sitting on his living room couch. There's a treadmill that Brown uses to walk a mile each day and a television where a Wii game helps improve his balance.

It's not the type of sedate activity Brown is used to.

He began officiating at 17, one year calling 472 games.

Last July he was certified to referee junior-level games.

"I remember a bunch of what happened," Brown said of the junior C game. "I remember standing there and getting cut and I knew right away where I was cut.

"But the fight was still going on and I had a job to do so I went in and tried to break it up. I remember thinking 'that's an artery, arteries are main and that probably means I'm losing a lot of blood.' That's when I bailed out for the bench.

"I wanted my helmet off and a drink of water but they wouldn't give me one."

When he was asked whom to contact, Brown told them the referee supervisor.

"Because I didn't think I would be able to make a game the next day and he hates it when people cancel on him," Brown said.

Parents Murray and Linda had gone north to Haliburton. They couldn't be reached until Brown's cellphone was located in his pants with his dad's phone number on it.

"They just told us he was cut and going to hospital," Murray said. "It wasn't until later we found out how serious it was."

He was taken to Woodstock and then London, Ont.

"The next thing I remember was waking up in London," Brown said. "The nurse old me Canada's junior team lost to the United States and I missed New Year's and I have to make it up next year."

He spent 107 days in hospital plus an additional two when doctors replaced the bone flap.

Brown believes he will get back on the ice.

He already has put on skates. With help from his rehabilitation team, he has walked around the kitchen table.

Brown isn't angry about what happened.

"I was in the wrong place at the wrong time," he said. "I went through a pretty serious bout of depression in June. I lay in bed and thought 'I can't believe I'm here at 25 and I'm here because of a stroke.' When you hear stroke you think of people who are at a later age."

He repeatedly says he doesn't like to look back.

The only time he grew pensive was when he looked at a pile of pucks on the side table. When he began officiating junior hockey he began collecting pucks of games he officiated.

"I have looked through that stack of pucks there and thought, 'I'd like to add more to that. I hope that's not where my career ends.'"


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