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Little Tucker Meets His Heroes

by Mike Ulmer / Toronto Maple Leafs
It started because they wanted to be normal.

Just normal. A husband, wife and three children, enjoying an afternoon skate in a rink in Flamborough, Ontario, near Hamilton.

But when a rink employee, either by ignorance or indifference or even a misplaced sense of authority told Kari Patterson she could not bring her wheelchair bound-son Tucker to the skate,  she relayed the problem to a reporter friend who had called on another matter.

Tucker, named after former Leafs agitator Darcy Tucker is luminous and tiny and he is going to die far, far too early.

Tucker is three. He has something called Leigh’s Disease. For reasons no one knows, mitochondria, a vital element of our cells is corrupted by mitochondria disease. It usually takes one to three years for the disease to take over, attack the body’s vital systems and shut them down. There is no cure, not even what would pass for a treatment.

The reporter wrote a story about the refusal of the person at the rink. Some Toronto media picked it up. The Leafs offered Tucker and his family a chance to finally go for their skate, this time at Air Canada Centre. He and his parents met Ian White, Jonas Gustavsson, Vesa Toskala among others.

For the Pattersons, this is only the latest in an incalculably long string of kindnesses.

The Children’s Wish Foundation installed a hot tub so Tucker could bob in the water with his sisters unfettered by the compromises that stalk his tiny body.

There have been fundraisers, including one last summer attended by Tucker’s namesake.  Tucker is probably the best known resident of his hometown of Waterdown, especially now that he has become a multi-media star.

But Tucker is leaving, even as his image is snapped up by a voracious media looking for a story that is at turns heartwarming and heartbreaking. He was diagnosed on August 15, 2008. Kari and her husband were invited to a meeting to discuss Tucker’s diagnosis. Tucker’s pediatrician came in from vacation to attend the meeting.  “That’s when I knew she said.”

Tucker is flagging, his sight has been compromised.

“Tory, our oldest is aware,” said Kari. “She keeps asking if Tucker is going to die and go to heaven.”

“I think the reason she keeps asking is because she wants us to give us a different answer.”

Kari Patterson busies herself telling people about the disease that is claiming her son.

“As a mother, you promise your children that no harm will come to them. But then this came and it was completely outside our control. There is no cure, no treatment for mitochondria disease. I made a promise to Tucker that no matter who I met or what I did, I was going to tell people  about this disease.”

Dave Patterson, a firefighter at Pearson Airport, said he lives from moment to moment.

“I  don’t know what the future will hold,” he says. “When the future comes, I will deal with it.”

He does know, of course, and so the family does more things together. They pile onto a couch for videos. Now they have crossed over to where the immortals play.

This time, they could do it together. Soon only Tucker will go.
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