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Carving memories

by Derek Jory / Vancouver Canucks

A ghost, a monster, a bat…

Kaden Thomas had a lot of choices when it came to what he wanted to carve into his pumpkin. What he didn’t get to decide was which Vancouver Canucks player would lend him a hand.

Unfortunately for him, it was Alex Bolduc.

There was no screening process for the five Canucks who visited Canuck Place Children's Hospice earlier this week to spread the Halloween spirit by carving pumpkins with the kids, but one would assume they had each carved a pumpkin before.

By the looks of Kaden’s pumpkin when all was said and done, that wasn’t the case for Bolduc.

“It was supposed to be a bat overtop of a building,” said Kaden of his pumpkin, “but it didn’t really turn out so well and we kind of had to change it up a little.

“It didn’t turn out because Alex has never carved a pumpkin before. It was his first time and that’s sad.”

A 25-year-old who has never carved a pumpkin, that is sad.

“All I can say is that I tried my best,” said Bolduc. “We carved a pumpkin, mangled or not, I thought we did pretty good. I’m going to have to talk to him and see what he’s saying behind my back there.”

Truthfully, Kaden couldn’t have cared less that the Canucks forward was less than precision throughout the carving. The 15-year-old, who has heart and lung disease and breathes with the support of oxygen tanks located at the back of his freshly autographed electric wheelchair, was just excited he got the opportunity to spend some time with Bolduc, Dan Hamhuis, Sami Salo, Alex Burrows, Guillaume Desbiens and Fin dressed as Johnny Canuck.

“I never thought I’d have the chance to meet some of the Canucks like this and miss school,” said Kaden. “Now I get to go home and brag about being with the Canucks and stuff, so it’s cool.”

Kaden was one of a handful of children at Canuck Place who ushered in the spookiest day of the year with a little pumpkin carving. Luckily for the others, they weren’t saddled with Bolduc.

Burrows and Richard made a Frankenstein, Hamhuis and daughter Anna took a shot at the moon, as did Desbiens and Madison. Each had difficulties of their own, but if perspiration is the mark of hardwork then Salo takes the cake.

Cozied up beside Holli Vanderwyk, a wheelchair bound 14-year-old with spinal muscular atrophy and a smile that could melt the sun, Salo played the role of surgeon cutting more than 10 stars into their jack-o'-lantern. Holli supervised his work while siblings Dexter and Amy carved pumpkins of their own making this a true family event that mother Susie cherished.

“It’s something that is pretty special for not just Holli, but all the kids to be able to participate in as a family together,” said Susie. “It seems like in life there’s a lot of stress and just to have a day of fun, I think it’s just fantastic. It’s great that these guys want to come out and spend their time doing something for the kids and it’s very much appreciated by everyone.”

It was clear that both parties, players and kids, were enjoying themselves to the fullest, meaning Canuck Place deserves the most praise for bringing the two together.

On the surface Canuck Place provides specialized pediatric palliative care for children living with a life-threatening illness and support for their families throughout British Columbia, but those with experience at Canuck Place know it offers so much more.

Not only are the affected children cared for with genuine compassion, their entire family becomes part of the Canuck Place family.

“Coming here to Canuck Place, it’s definitely all about family, they’re very supportive of the family unit, which is extremely important,” added Susie. “The siblings sometime have a problem with not being in the front seat because of the needs of the child with special needs. Canuck Place recognizes that everyone is important.”

That’s just how Filomena Nalewajek, chief executive officer of Canuck Place, wants it to be. Inclusion is a word she stresses a lot and a word used quite a bit with the Canucks visiting.

“It’s just unbelievable the way they respond to this,” said Nalewajek. “Halloween is a wonderful time for children and it is really a children’s celebration and a lot of our kids, because of their level of illness, are unable to participate in a lot of Halloween activities that the normal child can. For us to recreate not only a wonderful Halloween tradition, which is carving pumpkins, but hey, carving pumpkins with the Vancouver Canucks, that just tops it. How special is that.”

It was a truly special day, even if a few pumpkins were mangled.

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