A toddler suffering from a rare terminal illness who was turned away from a Hamilton rink took to the ice at the Air Canada Centre Tuesday after taking in a Toronto Maple Leafs practice.
Tucker Patterson, 3, suffers from Leigh's disease, a debilitating genetic disorder that has him confined to a wheelchair. He cannot walk, talk or eat, but was smiling as his father and twin sister wheeled him around the ice surface at the home rink of the Leafs on Tuesday.
Tucker's family has been told that the little boy — named after former Leaf Darcy Tucker — could die one to three years after diagnosis.
"And he's already in his third year so we try to create as many memories as possible," said David Patterson, Tucker's father.
Leigh's Disease FAQ:
What is it?
Leigh's disease is a neuro-metabolic disorder, meaning it affects the functioning of the brain and the nervous system. It is progressive, meaning symptoms become more pronounced over time.
Who does it affect?
The disease usually strikes infants aged three months to two years, though it can occasionally be diagnosed in teenagers and adults.
What symptoms does it cause?
Symptoms include poor sucking, loss of motor skills, loss of appetite, vomiting, poor muscle tone, irritability, seizures and continuous crying.
How common is it?
Leigh's disease is rare. It is caused by a genetic defect that is inherited.
What is the prognosis?
Most children live for a few years, with some living until six or seven years of age. A few survive longer.
What treatments exist?
Doctors frequently treat Leigh's disease with thiamine or Vitamin B1. Sometimes a high-fat, low-carbohydrate diet is recommended.
Source: U.S. National Institutes of Health.
Tuesday's skate came nine days after Tucker was denied access to a Hamilton rink. A rink employee told Tucker's mother Kari on Jan. 17 that the facility could not accommodate her son and his wheelchair.
"I was looking on the city of Hamilton website, and it stated in their mission values and goals statement clearly that all Ontarians with disabilities of any age are given equal opportunity to enjoy life," Kari Patterson said Tuesday.
The rink's manager promptly apologized to the family. Hamilton city manager Chris Murray told CBC News in an email the city "has a policy that is inclusive, not exclusive, and allows or makes accommodation for any and all our citizens."
He said the city will ensure there is "better communication with our employees regarding these policies."
A representative from Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment heard Tucker's story and offered to have him watch a Leafs practice and tour the ice surface.
"It was good," said Kari Patterson, speaking after her son's trip around the ice. "I wish there was a stick in hand and some skates involved, but I'll take it."
Tucker also met with members of the Leafs and the Los Angeles Kings, who played the hometown team in a Tuesday night game.
A beaming David Patterson said he was glad he was finally able to have his first skate with his son.
"Regardless whether it was a local arena or the Air Canada Centre ice, it made my day," he said.
Several arenas across Ontario have now also donated ice time to Tucker and his family. Meanwhile, hockey teams in the Pattersons' hometown of Hamilton have started fundraisers for Leigh's disease.