– Max Pacioretty
has signed thousands of autographs over the course of his relatively short NHL career with the Montreal Canadiens
, but there is one request in particular he can't wait to grant, and he hopes it comes very soon.
Because when that autograph request comes from the Montreal General Hospital (MGH) to sign his name on its brand new Functional MRI machine, it will mean the Max Pacioretty
Foundation launched Monday will have accomplished its goal of providing a revolutionary brain trauma assessment and treatment tool for the benefit of his adopted community.
When Pacioretty was knocked out last March after his head was driven into a stanchion at full speed during a game against the Boston Bruins
, he was treated at the MGH. And it was during his convalescence from that severe concussion and cervical neck fracture that Pacioretty decided he must do something to help other people who found themselves in the same predicament.
"A lot of that time spent in my bed wondering if I would ever play again made me realize what's important in life," Pacioretty said Monday after a press conference at the Canadiens suburban practice facility. "It's rewarding to score a goal or have a great game, but even more so to help someone's life. That's why I want to be so hands-on with this."
Left Wing - MTL
GOALS: 5 | ASST: 5 | PTS: 10
SOG: 49 | +/-: 2
The MGH has some recent experience treating Canadiens whose lives hang in the balance. Former captain and current Anaheim Ducks
center Saku Koivu
had his non-Hodgkin's lymphoma treatments there in 2001, except for the ones that called for him to use a PET scan.
For those, Koivu needed to drive two hours away to Sherbrooke, Que., because that was the closest one to Montreal. Once Koivu recovered, he started the foundation that eventually led to the purchase of a PET Scan for the MGH.
The machine itself bears Koivu's autograph, and he has said its purchase is one of his proudest achievements.
Pacioretty hopes to sign his own name on a brand new Functional MRI some day in the not too distant future.
"It's definitely going to be a great feeling when it does happen," Pacioretty said. "I know from playing with Saku, he was so proud of what he had accomplished, not just with hockey but with his foundation. I hope to have that feeling one day too."
The Functional MRI machine remains in development, but once completed will open a new window into the mysteries of the brain, Canadiens head physician Dr. David Mulder said.
It is essentially an intensified MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) machine built specifically for the brain, as opposed to most machines which are designed to be more versatile.
Mulder said the improved imaging technology will allow doctors to better assess a concussion, better determine treatment, make more informed decisions on when a patient is fully recovered and also conduct research on the long-term effects of brain injuries.
"If we have an X-Ray, I can see a fracture. If there's an injury to the brain, I have nothing right now," Dr. Mulder said. "This is the kind of research that will allow us to progress from soft data to hard, concrete treatment."
Dr. Reza Farivar is an expert in biomedical imaging working with the Traumatic Brain Injury Project at the MGH.
"A lot of that time spent in my bed wondering if I would ever play again made me realize what's important in life. It's rewarding to score a goal or have a great game, but even more so to help someone's life." -- Max Pacioretty
He explained that the number of image detectors on this breakthrough machine will be four times higher -- and the image resolution eight times higher – than that of any other machine that exists today. That will, in theory, allow doctors to pinpoint very small areas of the brain that have been damaged and see with great detail whether or not certain treatments are working – and they should also have access to those images quicker than ever before.
"Each detector can be smaller, so they tend to be more sensitive, and when you have more of them they can image the whole object faster," Dr. Farivar said. "So it will increase the speed and sensitivity. This combination is going to be extremely unique here."
The biggest impact, Dr. Farivar explained, will be the ability to examine the mild trauma that does not appear on the imaging technology available today.
"The main challenge is that you want to treat a disease, but you can't see it. So before you can treat it, you need to figure out what you need to look for," he said. "If a player or a concussed patient, an infant, has a lesion (on the brain) we can actually visualize, then if we try a drug we can actually see if they're responding to the drug."
Enhancing MRI technology does not come cheap.
The machine itself will come in at around $3.5 million once completed, in addition to the costs of establishing the brain trauma center at MGH, a facility to be headed by Dr. Vassili Papadopoulos and is expected to attract some of the top research minds in the world.
That's where Pacioretty will come in, using not only his individual investment but his high public profile within a Quebec community so shaken by his frightening injury.
"Our players are obviously very popular in our province, so when one of our players has an opportunity to support the community, to be present and to improve the community, we support him 100 percent," said Canadiens president and managing partner Geoff Molson. "It was Max who came to see us about supporting him in this, and there was no question we would. We hope others will follow his lead."
Pacioretty said it was his injury that triggered his interest in getting involved in this project, but it is the revolutionary aspect of the technology that has him most excited now.
"Just sitting in on the meetings with the doctors, they've been communicating about what this machine will do and how important it is," he said. "To see such respected doctors get so excited over this technology really shows how important it's going to be."
Pacioretty was fortunate to enjoy a relatively quick recovery -- one that he said never involved severe symptoms. But Dr. Mulder says the player's speedy recovery only underscores the ignorance that still exists with such injuries, and that those with more complicated symptoms and longer recovery periods will be those that benefit most.
"For me it's a miracle," Dr. Mulder said of Pacioretty's return. "But that points out that I don't understand the problem as well as I should. If there were some secret from Max or from our treatment of Max that would allow everybody to recover like this, that's what we're all searching for."