By Marty Hastings
Like any NHL prospect, Tim Bozon spent his off-season training hard for 2014-15. This summer, however, the road to a new season has been particularly long for the 20-year-old third-round pick of the Montreal Canadiens.
After all, it wasn’t until June that he skated for the first time since falling ill in March and losing nearly a quarter of his bodyweight. His mother, Hélène, brought an iPad to the rink to film his return to the ice. “If you think about three months ago, when he was laying down like a dead boy,” she said, “if someone told you he could be on the ice in June, probably I would not believe them.”
On the morning of March 1, Tim, who had scored a goal for the Kootenay Ice in a 4-2 win over the hometown Saskatoon Blades the night before, woke up in hysterics in his hotel room in Saskatoon, screaming in French at the top of his lungs. Kootenay trainer Cory Cameron quickly called an ambulance and Tim was rushed to Royal University Hospital. By nightfall he was in a medically induced coma.
A few hours later, Tim’s father, Philippe, stepped onto a runway in Europe after a business trip and checked his voicemail. There was a message from Cameron. Tim had contracted Neisseria meningitis, a rare and potentially fatal bacterial form of the disease. Philippe got back on a plane immediately and flew to Saskatoon.
Hélène had read that week in a newspaper about three French children who had died of meningitis. She knew how serious the disease could be, but nothing could prepare her for the sight of her unconscious son, lying motionless, surrounded by doctors and nurses, with machines beeping and buzzing all around his bed.
“When we arrived, it was like a nightmare, like he was dead,” Hélène said. “You have to live that to explain it. It’s not like your son. He had tubes everywhere and bags with water and antibiotics in the legs, in the neck and in the head…everywhere.”
Each of the next 10 days was flush with trying moments, differing diagnoses and inescapable thoughts of her son’s mortality. Even if he did make it, blindness, deafness, paralysis and brain damage were among the possible consequences. Hélène reluctantly brooded – especially on two occasions, when Tim’s outlook became particularly grim – on how she’d handle her son’s death. Her husband, however, refused to muse on the morbid. “Me, and I cannot explain why, I always, always believed that he was going to make it,” said Philippe, a former NHLer. “I didn’t even start to think about anything else. Even if family, some people, were thinking about this, I didn’t want to hear about it.”
On March 10, doctors started the slow process of waking Tim from his coma. With his parents and a team of about 10 physicians at his bedside, he was administered medication to help lift him from his slumber. As his father held his hand and his mother looked on, Tim had a frightening seizure. He shook for 24 minutes, his eyes rolling back into his head. “He was squeezing my hand so hard,” Philippe said. “I’ll always remember that. Also, to see his eyes – it’s a bad picture and scary moments.”
The seizure was counteracted with sedatives. Doctors conducted tests and continued the awakening process. Tim became more and more responsive over the next two days, following his parents with his eyes and attempting to speak. That period was frustrating for Philippe, because it was impossible to communicate properly with his aggravated and confused son. In an odd way, Tim’s anger was a calming sign for Hélène. She’d seen that fiery temper before. He was still there.
By March 13, Tim was able to sit up in bed, and the improvements in the days to follow were astounding. Feeling and movement in his limbs returned, and he was able to utter raspy words from his parched mouth, which until then had been filled with feeding and oxygen tubes.
There’s much Tim doesn’t remember about those first few days back in the land of the living, but he vividly recalls looking in the mirror for the first time. “I was like, ‘Oh my God, that’s not me,’” he said. “I lost about 40 pounds, even more than that. You don’t recognize yourself anymore. You’re so skinny, you have nothing on your body. That was the most difficult thing to accept for me.”
Tim was released from RUH March 28. He has no recollection of the coma and barely recalls scoring against the Blades. “Honestly, I don’t remember anything,” he said. “When I woke up, I looked around and thought, ‘What am I doing here?’ ”
Tim continued to rehab and work out in southern France, where his family has a home. He had his sights set on attending rookie camp in September, and he accomplished his goal. Though he had hoped to be suiting up with the Hamilton Bulldogs this season, Bozon was sent back to Kootenay. “It’s because of all the fans that I’m here right now, battling to get back on the ice,” Tim said. “It’s for myself and my family, too, for sure, but it’s for everybody that helped me…who believed in me.
“I don’t want to think about it – imagining myself without legs or seeing. I’m lucky and I battled through it.”
This feature originally appeared in the September 15, 2014 edition of The Hockey News magazine. Get in-depth features like this one, and much more, by subscribing now.