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The best game yet

by Ronil Desai / Vancouver Canucks

The traditional father versus son hockey game between Regan Ross and his two children, James and Michael is always entertaining.

Take the same match, add a pair of skates, the ice at Rogers Arena, and a few Canucks, and it is unforgettable.

The change of venue wasn’t the only bonus to the family tradition. Regan and Amy Ross recently welcomed their third child, 15 month old Gabrielle Ross, who was born with Inclusion-cell (I-cell) disease, a terminal illness.

The family of five was all smiles on January 23rd when Canucks forward Dale Weise,and defenceman Keith Ballard hit the ice with 30 families as part of the annual Canuck Place Family Skate at Rogers Arena.

Gabrielle has been in the hospice program for six months suffering from I-cell disease, a rare metabolic disorder which results in developmental delay and growth failure, particularly the development of speech and motor skills such as sitting and standing.

There is still no cure for this illness and treatment is limited to controlling and reducing the symptoms that are associated with this disorder, something Canuck Place is committed to fulfilling.

“We joined Canuck Place in the summer. It requires a lot of work parenting a child with special needs as opposed to a healthy child, so it’s been a huge resource,” explained Amy.

Gabrielle was tucked in blankets and pushed around the rink by her parents. With her mom behind the wheel and dad out of breath after soaring along the boards, the daily struggles were left in the rear view mirror on this bright afternoon.

“It’s an experience; the time spent together and the time spent with her. They go through so much and it’s nice to have these special events so they feel important,” said Amy.

With nearly two hours spent on the ice, families lined up for autographs, pictures and candid moments spent with Weise and Ballard. Both players along with team mascot FIN spent the afternoon skating and taking some time away from the game to spend with the families.

It’s a role the Canucks and Weise appreciate every time they step on the ice with children.

“It’s unbelievable for me. For us it’s inspirational, these kids look up to us when we look up to them,” said Weise. “These kids are the real heroes and their strength inspires me everyday not just as a hockey player but as a person. We’re grateful for what we do and to see the smiles on their faces, it’s a great feeling.”

The event sparked a great feeling for all those participating and that’s precisely what it’s set out to do. These children deal with emotional and physical battles on a daily basis, which has a significant impact on the entire family. The Canuck Place Family Skate grants a new type of freedom and a brief distraction from the stresses of day-to-day life.

Working at Canuck Place for 11 years, Laura Fielding, therapeutic recreation coordinator, has a unique connection with the skate and relishes the experience year after year.

“They have a chance to skate where their heroes skate so it is a dream come true for them,” said Fielding. “We have close to 30 families here today and those are children who are actively under the program for respite care and also some bereaved families.”

It is the hope of every parent that they can protect their children from life’s pain and suffering, that is especially true for parents whose child has a life limiting illness. Fielding know's an event like this does not lessen anyone’s pain, but perhaps, for a moment, it can take their mind off things and just allow them to be together as a family.

“As a parent myself, you witness life differently through the eyes of a child and when you see a child achieve one of their goals, it’s a feeling you can’t describe, but it just fills up your heart,” says Fielding.

Gabrielle’s father chose Canuck Place because it provides a special brand of care at any stage of a child’s illness

“They have a hospice model, so it is family orientated and patient-centric. The hospital model works really well but for long term care, it’s not setup for the nurturing you really need.”

Each parent deals with their child’s illness in their own particular way but they can all agree on one thing: “Canuck place has done an amazing job building a community and continuity. Nobody wants to be there, but if you’re in that position, it’s a great place to be.” said Ross.

Despite their struggles at home, the Canuck Place Family Skate generated the best game of hockey yet between Regan and his children. For a few hours, it allowed them to forget about life’s problems and just focus on having fun.

Click here to see the smiles from Monday’s skate.

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