Manitoba

Death of beloved Winnipeg basketball coach after freak accident a blow to the community, friends say

Family and friends are mourning the loss of a 24-year-old Winnipeg man who passed away after suffering brain damage in a freak accident earlier this month.

Matt Jonsson, 24, was a committed assistant basketball coach, loving brother and son

Matt Jonsson died last week after suffering a severe spinal injury in a freak accident. His family is remembering him as a kind-hearted, active young man. (Matt Jonsson Recovery/Facebook)

Family and friends are mourning the loss of a 24-year-old Winnipeg man who passed away after suffering brain damage in a freak accident earlier this month.

On Feb. 6, Matt Jonsson hit his head on a low basement ceiling and suffered a severe spinal injury that left him paralyzed below the chest. He was hospitalized and put on a ventilator as doctors worked to stabilize the fracture and wait for the swelling to go down.

In that time, family members worked to raise money to renovate his home so it was wheelchair accessible.

"It's very hard. It's just very unexpected because in the beginning we were faced with him being paralyzed, which I was very upset about. But now in hindsight, I wish that that's all that was happening," said his mother Tish Jonsson.

Matt suffered severe brain damage as a result of the injury and doctors told his family he'd never wake up. He was taken off life support last week.

Matt Jonsson (right) was taken off life support on Feb. 20. (Matt Jonsson Recovery/Facebook)

For a man who loved to ride BMX and dirt bikes and play sports, the accident that took his life seems unfathomable.

"[Matt and his brother Cole] got hurt so many times and so many times that they should have broken their necks, I think. And then for a senseless thing like this to happen, I don't understand. I just don't understand it at all," Jonsson said.

She says her son was loved by many and will be remembered as a generous, sweet man who loved adventure.

Once Matt saw a $100 bill floating down the street and ran out of the house to grab it.

"My mother and I tried to convince him to put it in the bank, but he wasn't having it. He went to the skate park and he ordered pizza and drinks for everybody," Jonsson said.

"It didn't matter who it was. And I think that sums him up pretty good."

She says her son, whom she worked and lived with, always wrapped her in a big hug and told her how much he loved her.

Dedicated basketball player, coach

Evan Cox knew Matt as his teacher, coworker and friend.

Cox, who is a physical education teacher at Sturgeon Heights Collegiate, coached boys basketball when Matt was a student there. Last year, Matt joined Cox as an assistant coach on the girls basketball team at the school.

Ever since he was a player, Cox said Matt was driven.

"He kind of left a legacy of playing the game the right way, an insanely hard worker [who] dedicated so much of his time to just pursuing excellence, just trying to get better every single day," he said.

"I think he was doing the same thing to get the girls to have that kind of intensity, that kind of drive and focus and of building hope in them that they can try to get to where they want to get to."

Another coach, Stephen Tackie worked with Matt throughout high school and said he was a truly unique student.

"He recognized he was part of something bigger than himself, and I think he took that role on that he had to give back."

Matt was also instrumental in getting Skate Park West off the ground in Sturgeon Creek.

He went to planning meetings, worked to raise money to have it built and when it did open, he took first aid training and volunteered to keep watch in case anyone got hurt.

Jonsson says the money her family raised for Matt when he was in the hospital — nearly $87,000 — will go to building memorial benches at Skate Park West and starting a fund to help people play basketball who may not have the means.

"He touched so many people," Jonsson says. "We're going to use that money to honour him, to keep his legacy going."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Rachel Bergen is a journalist for CBC Manitoba and previously reported for CBC Saskatoon. Find her on Twitter at @r_bergen or email her at rachel.bergen@cbc.ca.

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