Whitehorse Daily Star

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OVERWHELMING SUPPORT – Derek Johnstone, head coach of the peewee Whitehorse Mustangs team, suffered a severe spinal injury after an accidental collision during a Feb. 17 Whitehorse Rec Hockey League game.

Hockey family responds after serious injury

Well-known hockey player and coach Derek Johnstone suffered a severe neck and spinal cord injury after a freak accident during a rec hockey game.

By Dustin Cook on February 28, 2018

Well-known hockey player and coach Derek Johnstone suffered a severe neck and spinal cord injury after a freak accident during a rec hockey game.

The response from the tight-knit hockey family following the incident has been overwhelming and hard to put into words for Johnstone’s family and close friends.

“It’s unbelievable, I’m just overwhelmed” Derek’s wife Rajan Johnstone told the Star. “I’m overwhelmed with the support everyone has showed us.”

An online GoFundMe campaign was started by the family on Monday and in less than two days has fundraised $12,660 – over the listed goal of $10,000. The money raised will be going toward supporting Derek and the travel costs for Rajan and their two kids to make trips back and forth to Vancouver.

During the Whitehorse Rec Hockey League game, Derek accidentally collided with a teammate and fell to the ice unable to move.

He was stretchered off the ice and taken to Whitehorse General Hospital where Rajan said a CT scan was performed.

“They sent it to Calgary and came back and right away they said he needs to go out but at the time they said it was a pre-existing injury,” Rajan said.

Derek was airlifted to a hospital in Vancouver and underwent surgery successfully.

Rajan said they weren’t aware of this pre-existing injury and when Derek collided with the player it aggravated the injury and caused severe damage. Rajan made the initial trip down to Vancouver and was with her husband through surgery before returning to Whitehorse on Sunday.

“He’s doing good, he’s trying to stay positive,” she said. “He’s got movement back in his arms and legs but he doesn’t have any control of them so it’s just a waiting game for his nerves to regenerate now and for the rehabilitation.”

The rehabilitation process could take between six to 12 months, Rajan said, and Derek will be treated at the GF Strong Rehabilitation Centre in Vancouver.

“They’re saying six to 12 months. That’s the timeline they’ve given us but it could be any time. It just depends on his body and how his nerves regenerate and how fast,” Rajan said.

But being a hockey parent, Derek has a few obligations he is working to getting to.

The hockey coach entered his young daughter’s tyke Whitehorse Minor hockey team in a contest for the Vancouver Canucks and they were chosen to make the trip to Vancouver for the March 17 game to play a three-minute game during an intermission.

And that is the first trip goal for Derek. Being in the same city, he is hoping to make it out of the hospital to see his daughter and the team play on the big ice. With support from the medical team and even the Canucks, Rajan said they will do everything they can to make sure he can be there.

“I think it was the Canucks doctor that he met in the hospital here and that doctor has told him he doesn’t care how he’s going to get him there, even if it’s an ambulance, he’s going to go see his daughter,” Rajan said. “So we’re going to get him there for sure.”

The following day, the peewee Whitehorse Mustangs team – in which Johnstone is the head coach – begins their BC provincial championship tournament in Summerland, which would be a little bit more of a trek for the coach.

But assistant coaches Michael Tuton and Justin Halowaty said the team is practising and preparing as hard as they can for their coach.

“I was there on the Sunday with the team and a lot of the kids were quite visibly upset,” Tuton said. “They’ve since settled in, going back into the routine. It’s a new routine without the head coach but we’re still focused on what we set out to do.”

Halowaty said the team made a video for their coach wishing him well and that the hockey community has been helping in any way they can.

“People in town really want to help out the family during this over night life-changing event,” he said. “It’s really hard to see something this.”

Tuton said Derek has deep roots in the Yukon and has done so much for the hockey community that everyone was eager to support the family.

“It’s one of those things that makes you really proud to be a Yukoner. I’m still trying to figure out myself,” Tuton said of the overwhelming support and the GoFundMe campaign that took off instantly. “Everyone just realized what a tragic event this is and what it’s going to take to get our head coach back on his feet.”

Playing competitive hockey in Alberta and B.C., Johnstone played under current Toronto Maple Leafs head coach Mike Babcock who gave him a call to see how Johnstone was doing and wish him well in his recovery.

Rajan said the overwhelming support has lifted Derek’s spirits as she shared with him the videos made and photos taken by the hockey family.

“He appreciates it so much and it really lifts his spirits when people send him stuff like that, just a big smile,” she said.

“It’s just unreal because Derek does so much for the community, especially the hockey community, and the people that have provided us support is unreal.”

Comments (1)

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phyllis on Mar 4, 2018 at 11:10 am

Please add the gofundme link so people can donate

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