To the brink and back — Bozon family recounts Tim’s chilling brush with death
He woke up in hysterics, screaming in French at the top of his lungs.
By nightfall, Tim Bozon would be in a coma, one that would last 12 days and force his family into fearing the worst.
“When we arrived, it was like a nightmare — like he was dead,” said the former Kamloops Blazer’s mother, Hélène, who spoke to KTW from the family’s home in the south of France on Saturday, June 7.
“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.”
On the morning of March 1, Bozon, who the night before had scored a goal for the Kootenay Ice in a 4-2 win over the hometown Saskatoon Blades, was rushed to Royal University Hospital (RUH) and placed in an induced coma.
A few hours later, Philippe Bozon, Tim’s father, stepped onto a runway in his home country of France after a business trip and checked his voice mail.
There was a message from Kootenay trainer Cory Cameron and it soon became clear Philippe needed to get back on a plane immediately and jet to Saskatoon.
His son had contracted Neisseria meningitis, a rare and potentially fatal bacterial form of the disease.
Hélène had read that week in a newspaper about three young 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, motionless, surrounded by doctors and nurses, unfamiliar machines beeping, buzzing and surrounding his bed.
“Philippe said he always believed Timmy was going to be alive but, me, I don’t know,” said Hélène, who arrived with her husband at RUH on March 2.
“He was always trusting and me, twice, I was thinking it was not good.”
Each of the next 10 days were flush with trying moments, differing diagnoses and inescapable thoughts of her own son’s mortality.
Even if Tim did make it through, 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 would even begin to handle her son’s death.
Philippe 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. I told them, ‘He’s going to get out. We have to think positive. He’s going to fight. He’s going to get out.”
The decision was made on March 10 to start the slow process of waking the Montreal Canadiens’ draft pick from his coma, a pivotal point in the process when Tim’s new reality would begin to take shape.
“The doctor had been telling us any damage can happen,” Philippe said. “At the beginning, you want to see if he can see, he can hear you and he can speak.”
With a team of about 10 doctors and his parents at his bedside, Tim was administered drugs that would help lift him from his slumber.
His father holding his hand, Tim had a frightening seizure. His mother looked on as he shook for 24 minutes, his eyes rolling back into his head.
“He was squeezing my hand so hard for 20 minutes,” 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 and Tim became more and more responsive over the next two days, following his parents with his eyes and attempting to speak.
Philippe said that period was frustrating because it was impossible to communicate properly with his clearly aggravated son.
Tim was extremely thirsty, but he was not allowed to drink large amounts of water and he couldn’t understand why.
In an odd way, Tim’s anger was a calming sign for Hélène.
She had 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 soon able to utter raspy words from his parched mouth, which was until then filled with feeding and oxygen tubes.
There is much Tim does not 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 told KTW.
“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.”
The Bozon family was shocked on March 24, Tim’s 20th birthday, when his elder sister, Allison, and younger brother, Kevin, arrived at RUH after making the long trek to Saskatoon from Europe.
“Those two decided to make a big surprise to everybody,” Philippe said. “We didn’t even know. It was a great moment.”
The winger who made a name for himself in Kamloops playing on a line with JC Lipon and Colin Smith has no recollection of the coma — no bright lights, no dreams and no otherworldly encounters — and he barely recalls scoring against the Blades.
“You can believe it or not but, honestly, I don’t remember anything. When I woke up, I looked around and thought, ‘What am I doing here?’ I thought maybe I slept for a long time, two days or 24 hours. It was for 12 days in a coma.”
The former Blazer has a new outlook on life.
“It’s just bonus now. It’s all a bonus,” Tim said.
“I see life in a different way right now. I’m more mature. I feel like I’m going to enjoy my life.
“The neuro [RUH neurosurgeon Dr. Gary Hunter] says I’m really lucky after what I got. It’s tough for me to believe or accept that I’m lucky. I don’t realize and I don’t want to think about it, imagining myself without legs or seeing. It’s just, ‘OK, I’m lucky and I battled through it.’ That’s it.”
Hélène became emotional when thanking everyone who supported her son — the Western Hockey League, the Saskatoon Blades, the Kootenay Ice, the Kamloops Blazers and the army of Canadians who sent letters, gift certificates, money and comforting words.
“There will be not enough words to say thank you to all these people. Kamloops was his first big family in Canada and they will be forever,” she said.
Angie Mercuri, the Blazers’ executive director of business operations and Tim’s billet mom during his stint in Kamloops, holds a special place in his heart. She visited the family in hospital in Saskatoon.
Tim had a message for anyone who sent encouraging words through social media.
“It’s because of all the fans that I’m here right now battling, for myself and my family, too, for sure, but it’s for everybody that helped me, people in Kamloops, who believed in me,” Tim said.
“It’s for them I’m fighting to get back on the ice.”
Hélène reserved special thanks for Blades’ president Steve Hogle.
“He came every day, sometimes twice a day,” she said.
“Even when Timmy was in the coma, he would say, ‘Hey Tim, how are you today? Are you ready to go back on the ice?’
“The neuro said to talk to him. You feel crazy talking to someone with a tube in his mouth in a coma. When Timmy began to wake up, [Hogle] came and said, ‘Oh, are you ready?’ and he [Tim] started to shake. It was just amazing.”
Former Kamloops teammate Mitch Lipon, who attended a Goo Goo Dolls concert with Tim on Feb. 27, two days before he fell ill, was a consistent visitor to RUH.
“That boy was amazing,” Hélène said.
The Bozons said they are forever indebted to the folks at RUH — from the neurosurgeon to the nurses to the priest.
Kootenay trainer Cameron was also praised for his quick decision to call an ambulance on March 1, a choice that likely played a major part in saving Tim’s life.
Dr. Hunter suggested there’s no reason why Tim can’t make a full recovery.
The flying Frenchman was released from RUH on March 28 and is working hard in the south of France, doing rehab and going to the gym.
Last week, he skated for the first time since Feb. 28.
“After five minutes, I gained everything back, my hands and my skating,” Tim said.
“I was really happy and confident for the future.”
He has his sights set on attending the Habs’ rookie camp in September and playing for their American Hockey League affiliate, the Hamilton Bulldogs, next season.
Tim even mentioned attending the Canadiens’ prospects camp in July, but admitted that might be a tad overambitious.
His mom brought an iPad to the rink and filmed her son’s return to the ice.
“Oh, me, I cried. I cried,” Hélène said.
“If you think about three months ago, when he was laying down like a dead boy, if someone told you he could be on the ice in June, probably, I would not believe these people.
“I don’t know if there is someone up there, but . . . amazing.”
On the radio
Tim’s story was featured on CBC Radio Kamloops.
Click here to listen.
Covering the cost
The Bozon family incurred large medical and rehabilitation costs, with the tab believed to chime in at more than six figures.
A trust fund was established to aid the family financially.
“All the money people gave will be used to pay what we need in Canada,” Hélène said.
“After that, if there’s still money, it will go to people who need it.”
Donations can be made at any BMO Bank of Montreal branch in Western Canada.
Those living outside that area can mail donations to:
Western Hockey League, c/o Tim Bozon, Father David Bauer Arena, 2424 University Drive NW, Calgary AB,