It’s amazing the kind of impact that one small, thoughtful gesture of kindness can have.
When Geoff Leibl, a youth hockey coach in the San Diego area, learned that one of his former goaltenders, 13-year-old Jasper Neale, had been recently diagnosed with Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS), he felt compelled to do something.
Jasper would require extensive therapy in a treatment program on the East Coast, and Leibl was looking for a means to lift Jasper’s spirits and provide a distraction from the challenges ahead. He came up with the idea to put together a video using messages of support from other goaltenders.
“Another coach, Joe Connaughton, and I were talking about what we could do for him and this idea just came together,” Leibl remembers. “We put out a brief email to our hockey network asking for goalie videos for Jasper and they started to come in from all over the world. The response was incredible. Goalies are a different breed for sure.”
One of the people who received the email request was Darren Granger, head equipment manager for the Los Angeles Kings, a friend of Leibl’s. Granger didn’t hesitate to recruit the participation of Kings netminders Jonathan Quick and Martin Jones, who each recorded personal well-wishes for Jasper to be added to the collection.
Jasper from Randall on Vimeo.
The final product was a 14-minute long video, which included thoughtful, inspiring messages from various goalies of every rank from all over the world. The video opens with Jasper’s own friends and teammates, as well as other local San Diego goalies, then continues with messages from Junior, College and international goaltenders and closes with messages from NHL netminders, including Marc-Andre Fleury, Carey Price, Jonas Hiller, Brian Elliot, James Reimer, Jonathan Bernier, and more.
Aside from ‘feel better soon’ sentiments, many of the goalies referenced the bond between goaltenders, and the strength of those who play between the pipes. Most of the messages came from people who have never and will never meet Jasper in person.
“The position takes a unique personality. It’s a pretty special position and it’s definitely fun to play,” says Jones, who admits his career between the pipes began when he volunteered for the job a little more often than the other kids on his team.
“We’re pretty lucky, we have a good opportunity to help out a lot around the community and to do this, and take a little bit of time out of our day,” continues Jones, referring to his NHL colleagues. “We’re happy to do that any chance we can. It’s a pretty special position that we’re in and I’m happy to use my time like that.”
Jasper was surprised with the video montage by his parents one day following a rigorous eight-hour therapy session, and it’s safe to say Leibl’s mission was accomplished.
“I was truly overwhelmed,” expresses Jasper. “I was touched and motivated by the kind messages. It showed me how tight-knit the hockey community, and especially us goalies, are. I couldn’t believe that so many goalies took time to send messages to me personally. From little guys, to college and international players from as far away as Japan and Berlin, including so many awesome NHL goalies that I have admired for years. It was an experience I will never ever forget.”
Jasper is an ordinary 13-year old boy. He loves fishing, cooking – particularly pasta – and even cooks dinners for his family. In the past he’s played lacrosse, basketball, and has been playing hockey since the age of six. Jasper enjoys being a hockey goaltender and some of his favorite players include Reimer and the Kings’ Drew Doughty.
Back in July of 2014 Jasper suffered a heel fracture that, by mid-August, rather than improving, was causing him pain in his lower leg. He was eventually diagnosed with CRPS, and within 48-hours of the original diagnosis, the pain had spread to his upper leg, torso, and throughout the rest of his body. After spending six days in the hospital, Jasper began physical therapy both at the hospital and at home, but by September, his condition had worsened.
CRPS is an extremely painful condition that typically affects a limb, but can cause pain anywhere on the body. The pain signal is amplified, and while some individuals experience intermittent attacks of pain, some experience pain all over. CRPS can also be referred to as reflex neurovascular dystrophy, reflex sympathetic dystrophy, amplified musculoskeletal pain syndrome, and childhood fibromyalgia. Trauma, illness, and psychological stress are three common factors that cause these conditions.
Rehabilitation for these conditions is based largely on physical and occupational therapy, but currently, according to research done by the Neales, there are only six facilities in the United States that offer the treatment protocol that they were seeking.
After some effort, the Neales were able to get Jasper admitted to Children’s Specialized Hospital, located in New Jersey, on November 12. The inpatient program at this particular facility has an impressive track record for helping children with this condition achieve a positive result.
“This condition is often misdiagnosed or diagnosis is very delayed, which then delays treatment,” says Christopher Haines, chief medical officer at Children’s Specialized Hospital. “Another big challenge is currently, there are very few health care providers experienced enough in rehabilitation to treat these types of pain disorders.”
For six weeks, Jasper participated in six to eight hours of therapy per day, five days a week. Therapy sessions were centered around recreating function, with the idea that with improved function comes improved pain. In addition to participating in the program, Jasper was required to do therapy on his own, which added another four to six hours per day on the weekends, attend meetings and log his progress. Jasper was able to return home to San Diego on December 24.
“Everything that he does now he does on his own,” confirms Rick Neale, Jasper’s father. “He is very significantly improved.”
Going forward, keeping fit and maintaining a good exercise regimen will be crucial for Jasper to manage his health. It’s entirely possible that Jasper’s bout with CRPS will never repeat itself if he remains committed to keeping himself in top physical shape.
This may not be too difficult for a kid like Jasper who enjoys sports and exercise regularly. As a matter of fact, it may be his athletic background that enabled him to tackle eight hours of therapy per day with such commitment and focus, certainly a daunting task to even the most conditioned professional athletes.
“Let’s take hockey for example,” explains Jasper. “You can’t just take the third period off because you’re tired. I couldn’t just be tired and sit on the couch, the whole eight hours of therapy I had to give 100 percent the whole time.”
Jasper knows that he has overcome a great challenge by getting through his treatment program, but he also knows the work is not over. He is now required to do at least one hour of cardiovascular exercise per day, which he fulfills by mountain biking in the mountains near his home, joining his school’s paddle-boarding club, swimming and working out at the YMCA. As for hockey, he has his sights set on tryouts later this year.
When the opportunity to tell his story was presented, Jasper was eager to cooperate. He, like his parents, would like to raise awareness for CRPS and other chronic pain disorders so that others who are faced with the same challenges have better knowledge and resources available to them.
“I would like more research and more ways to help people,” Jasper states. “I also want to make it something that more people understand. If I told my friends I had CRPS, they would have no idea what that even meant.”
Lori Neale, Jasper’s mother, is hopeful that she can put wheels into motion that would establish a chronic pain rehabilitation facility in the state of California.
Turning a traumatic experience in a positive direction isn’t always an easy feat, especially for a kid. But when you have the overwhelming support of your family, friends, teammates, Stanley Cup Champions, and Olympic Gold Medalists, perhaps it’s a little easier.
More information on the treatment program at Children’s Specialized Hospital can be found here
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