The Thomases were just like any modern American family. They had four children, the oldest of whom ate, lived, and breathed hockey. It was his life.
That son, Willy Alexander Thomas, known to his loved ones as “Zander,” played hockey for Team Comcast and for Pennington School, both located in New Jersey.
Even though he was still just a young teen, Zander truly excelled at the sport. He had traveled to play all over the country as well as outside the country, in Canada. His trainers included former NHL stars who wanted him to be the best athlete he could be and who pushed him to the limit.
Zander pushed himself as well. He played at the highest possible non-professional level, despite his young age. His games were fast, and, as such, dangerous. The faster the pace at which a game is played, the greater the risk of injury due to the huge impact of collisions and puck hits.
Unfortunately, Zander was eventually involved in one of those collisions, and he was diagnosed with a concussion as a result. Even after he began healing, he constantly complained of aches and pains and eventually began suffering from depression. Things seemed to be turning around for him, however, when, just three weeks after the concussion diagnosis, he joined the National Tier I Elite Hockey League, the highest possible level for amateur players.
Excited and seemingly back to his old self, Zander played in a big game and felt just fine. He fell asleep on the way home but got himself up, went inside, and went to bed without problems. It wasn’t until the next day that things went horribly wrong. When the family went to a gathering, he decided, uncharacteristically, to stay behind. Once left alone, Zander sent a cryptic text to his family. What he did next, however, they could never have imagined.
Zander parked his car near a bridge and then jumped to his death in the Hudson River, dying almost three months to the date after his concussion diagnosis. His pediatrician believes that the concussion Zander suffered hindered his ability to think correctly and caused him to make a poor decision, one he didn’t really want or intend to make.
Players across other sports, of all ages, have done similar things, often, many believe, as a result of frontal lobe damage sustained through the sport. While research is still being done to determine the link between concussions and other head injuries and increased rates of suicide and depression, many people believe there is a definite, real, and scary connection.
Zander’s family is among those who believe in the connection, and they have formed the UNTOLD Foundation, a nonprofit organization that teaches others about the risks of concussions, how to reduce the risk of getting a concussion in the first place, and the warning signs of serious brain damage. The organization also seeks to find answers and hopefully a cure to brain, frontal lobe, and general concussion damage. They have turned their unfortunate story into a way to bring help, hope, and healing to others.
As a parent, you can certainly empathize with the Thomas’ story. Take it to heart, and do everything you can to keep your child from getting injured. Take any injuries seriously, and monitor your child closely after any type of injury occurs. Doing that just might save your child’s life.