New Brunswick

Doaktown hockey star overcomes mysterious illness that put him in wheelchair

At 16, Brayden Colford went from captain of his hockey team to sitting in a wheelchair trying to remember how to use his legs.

'The whole experience gives you a new outlook on life,' Brayden Colford says

When he was in Grade 11, Brayden Colford started losing his balance, then his ability to walk, and it took a lot of doctors, hospital visits and tests to figure out what was wrong. (Submitted)

At 16, Brayden Colford went from captain of his hockey team to sitting in a wheelchair trying to remember how to use his legs.

"Basically I was bound to a wheelchair," said Brayden, now 17 and in Grade 12. "I couldn't walk. If I tried to walk, I would basically fall over. I had no balance."

In November 2017, Brayden felt like a typical teenager. He played defence for the Doaktown/Boiestown Hitmen Hockey Team, went to school and hung out with friends and his girlfriend, Katelyn.

Then the dizzy spells started.

Brayden tried to continue with his everyday life but always felt "a bit off."

That feeling led to three trips to emergency rooms in Miramichi and Fredericton, where he was told by doctors he had vertigo, a debilitating chronic dizziness that can result from viruses.

Every test that he had to go through I had to mentally prepare myself for the worst-case scenario.- Kristy Colford, Brayden's mother

From there, the Doaktown teen visited a pediatric neurologist in Saint John, who also diagnosed him with vertigo.

But something didn't sit well with Brayden and his family.

An abnormal blood test revealing low sodium levels suggested something else was happening in his body.

It wasn't until Colford saw an ear, nose and throat specialist in Moncton that he learned what he had was more serious.

"He basically said this is not vertigo, it's something much worse," Brayden said.

Exactly what it was remained a mystery, however. Brayden started a long road of multiple blood tests, five MRI scans to see whether he had a brain tumour, and a spinal tap for multiple sclerosis at both Fredericton and Moncton hospitals.

A new diagnosis

"Every test that he had to go through I had to mentally prepare myself for the worst-case scenario," said Brayden's mother, Kristy Colford.

But over and over, doctors came back with nothing. And Brayden's body was weakening. 

In December, Brayden was eventually diagnosed by a Moncton neurologist with cerebellitis, a swelling in the cerebellum caused by a virus. His family believes the swelling came from a seasonal cold he had a few weeks earlier.  

Now Brayden waited for a spot at the Stan Cassidy Centre for Rehabilitation in Fredericton, where he was to learn how to walk again.

Brayden was captain of his hockey team in Grade 11 and Grade 12. In the fall he will be studying engineering at the University of New Brunswick. (Submitted)

But Brayden continued to deteriorate. He was losing his speech and his co-ordination. He would also suffer tremors all over his body, forcing his mother to wrap him in blankets to keep him from shaking.  

"He was an A student and if one of the therapists read him a sentence, he would not be able to remember that sentence to read it back to her," Colford said.

Learning to walk

In February, Brayden went to the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, where he was diagnosed with somatic symptom disorder, a mental illness caused by major emotional distress. That disorder was caused by his initial cerebellitis diagnosis.

"The somatic symptom disorder is brought on by a stressor, and it's just the way your body deals with it," Colford said. "Instead of having a mental breakdown, his body reacted." 

Once he received the diagnosis, Brayden immediately started to improve and accept what his body had gone through.

Brayden was the winner of a Turnaround Achievement Award this week in Fredericton. (Submitted)

"We got to Toronto in a wheelchair, we left with him not in the wheelchair," Colford said. "He was still not steady but he could do it on his own."

Brayden continued his visits at Stan Cassidy, where he improved his motor skills and speech. Soon, he was back to normal.

He returned to Central New Brunswick Academy in March 2018, resuming his role as hockey captain.

This week, Brayden received an award at the Turnaround Achievement Awards, sponsored by the Kingswood resort in Fredericton. The awards, which include scholarships, are held to recognize students who turn their struggles into lifelong achievements.

"The whole experience gives you a new outlook on life," Brayden said of his own turnaround. 

"Before, I wasn't the kind of person that would wake up and say, 'Yeah, let's go to school.' I'd go to school, do my work sometimes, and I got by. … Now I just try to get more involved, I do more work than I used to."

This year, Brayden was again captain of his hockey team and was also class president. He plans to take engineering at the University of New Brunswick this fall.

"This time last year, I didn't know if Brayden would be graduating," Colford said. "That's a definite turnaround."

With files from Information Morning Fredericton

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