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Young hockey player from Dover in for 'fight of his life' after severe spinal injury during game

Emily Lytle
Dover Post

Brian Page Jr. is the kind of person others gravitate toward. 

A 17-year-old senior at Caesar Rodney High School and a talented ice hockey player, many of his teammates know him as a brother. His coaches describe him as a fierce competitor and one of the hardest working athletes they know. And his principal, Sherry Kijowski, said Brian is a charismatic young man, always surrounded by friends in the hallways or cafeteria.

Despite a vast collection of nicknames – from BP to Brian J to Tarzan – there is one word used to describe Brian that seems most fitting right now: fighter.

On Sunday, Nov. 15, Brian was severely injured during an ice hockey game in Trenton, New Jersey. His father said Brian was at center ice, bringing the puck into the offensive zone when another player came across and hit him.

Brian Page, 17, was severely injured during an ice hockey game Nov. 15.

Sometime during the hit or when he fell to the ice, Brian damaged his C-5 and C-6 vertebrae, which put pressure on his spinal cord and damaged his spine. Because no spectators were allowed in the arena due to COVID-19 precautions, someone ran outside to get Brian’s mother, Joan Page.

“She laid on the ice or sat on the ice, [and she] leaned over and was just talking to him,” said his father, Brian Page Sr.

Brian was rushed to a regional medical center in Trenton where the doctors determined his injury. He was then flown by helicopter to Thomas Jefferson Hospital in Philadelphia, where he underwent surgery about six hours after the injury.

Using screws and rods to help stabilize Brian's spine, the doctor then explained to Brian's parents the details of their son's injury. 

Brian Page Sr. recalled the doctor saying it was "very serious and it would take a miracle for him to walk again.”

Brian Page wraps his arm around his family, including his brothers, mother and father. The Page family lives in Magnolia, a town south of Dover.

Right now, Brian has some movement in his shoulders and arms, but he has no motor skills in his fingers and no movement in his legs.

While he has had a few setbacks – like having to eat through a feeding tube due to difficulties swallowing –his father said Brian is alert when the pain medications are wearing off, and he enjoys looking at text messages from his teammates, coaches, friends and family.

He had a second surgery Friday morning. According to a 3 p.m. post on a Facebook page that a close family friend started to support Brian, he was doing well and headed to recovery soon.

On Monday, Brian's father said doctors are hopeful that Brian will be discharged this week from the hospital to a rehabilitation facility. The family is now looking for a facility that will be aggressive and meet the teen's needs. 

Fighting spirit

Jim Kriner coached Brian when he was a youth player for the Delaware Ducks. When he heard the news, he said he had an initial “sick feeling in your stomach,” but then one thought came to him.

“I’m filled with hope for Brian because he is one of the most determined kids I’ve ever met. He’s one of the hardest-working kids I’ve ever met,” Kriner said. “If he has a goal in his mind, he’s going to try and achieve it. And if he can’t, nobody can.”

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Brian’s lacrosse coach at Caesar Rodney High School, Brooks Johnson, said he was sure that Brian was going to “fight like hell.”

“The kid’s a tremendous competitor, a tremendous person. He’s going to fight through this thing,” he said. “He’s not one to quit.”

Brian Page Sr. said the family’s faith and prayers from the community have helped anchor them.

“We believe that prayer does work and we are praying for a miracle that the best possible outcome for him is realized,” he said. 

He said Brian has taken to listening to Christian music, returning to one song with a verse that has become a sort of mantra: “God is not finished with me yet.”

Community support

Family friend Robyn Yoder started a Facebook page that had more than 1,500 followers as of Friday. People from across the country and even the world have posted and shared encouraging messages there.

Brian’s teammate Corey Owens started a GoFundMe page last Tuesday, and the campaign had raised more than $276,000 by Friday. The funds will help the Page family pay for medical costs not covered by insurance.

Helping those numbers soar, Grizzled, a hockey-based clothing company, created apparel with the words “87 Strong” – paying homage to Brian’s jersey number. All proceeds go toward the GoFundMe.

On Sunday, Voodoo Lacrosse, a sporting goods store in Camden, also donated 20% of its proceeds to the Page family. 

Between this support, and others reaching out to the family or offering prayers, Brian Page Sr. said it has been overwhelming. He asked people to continue to pray.

“We just can’t thank everyone enough that has supported Brian,” he said. “It just shows how the hockey community ... how close it is, a tight-knit group. It just shows who Brian is and the outpour of people who have crossed his path or he has crossed their path.”

A young Brian Page excited about a new hockey stick for Christmas.

At a tournament this past weekend in Pittsburgh, Brian’s team planned to put up his jersey in the locker room and hang it on the bench. Each player also planned to wear rubber bracelets saying “87 Strong."

The local community in central Delaware is rallying, too. 

At Caesar Rodney High School, the volleyball team honored Brian by wearing orange and black shoelaces – the colors of his team, the Philadelphia Little Flyers. 

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On Friday, the CR football team dedicated its last home game against Dover to Brian, and parents and fans wore orange to show that the community would “Play for Page.”

“There is this very strong feeling in the Caesar Rodney School District that ‘once a Rider, always a Rider,'” Principal Kijowski said. “There’s this deep-seated Rider pride, and we take care of our own, and we support our own.”

Coach Johnson agreed, saying that it’s easy to get emotional seeing students making posters for Brian in the high school’s hallways.

“This whole Caesar Rodney community is so special,” he said.

Hopes to skate again

Brian Page has wanted to play ice hockey since he was 3 years old.

Brian Page, also known as BP or Brian J,  has wanted to play ice hockey since he was three years old.

His father said he never talked much about playing in the NHL, but he knew that was his son’s dream.

“You could just tell his passion and his hard work ethic,” his father said. “He would be in the backyard on our basketball court at midnight shooting up at the net. Or, he’d be downstairs in the gym working out.”

While it’s uncertain what Brian’s future and hockey career holds, his family is hopeful. They said they know their son will make a difference in the hockey community.

Brian’s father’s voice caught in his throat.

“His mom and I have no doubt," he said, "that he will lace up his skates and get on the ice again and skate."