Jefferson Hagen, MacEwan Athletics
EDMONTON – The young man dropping the puck at Friday night's MacEwan Griffins women's hockey game (7 p.m. vs. SAIT at the Downtown Community Arena) will turn one on Sunday.
Little Lincoln Bourgeois and every ounce of his infectious, energetic and smiley self has lived a lifetime in his short time on earth, though.
His journey after being born with two holes in his heart has inspired an entire team, who've embraced the son of Griffins assistant coach Danielle Bourgeois into their family as one of their own.
Lincoln came out fighting last January as his parents – Bourgeois and partner Carla Calderon – were ready to do everything to help him.
"He basically had two holes in his heart," said longtime Griffins assistant coach Bourgeois. "So, when he was born, we already knew he had this condition. His heart could have gone into heart failure if it wasn't corrected."
Lincoln spent 88 days of his first six months of life in hospital as doctors, nurses and social workers at the Stollery Children's Hospital and Mazankowski Alberta Heart Institute wrapped their arms around the family and preserved his life.
Much of the rest of the time he wasn't in hospital, he had a feeding tube and oxygen tank attached to prevent hypoglycemic seizures from low blood sugar associated with his condition.
"It made for a lot of packing of things if you needed to go anywhere," said Bourgeois. "My wife and I would joke about how he needed a wagon to carry all of his stuff."
As the wait was on for Lincoln to have surgery, Bourgeois helped guide the Griffins to their second-straight ACAC Championship in March. The players celebrated, but always had the little baby that captured their hearts on their minds.
"I think the best part is Lincoln was instantly absorbed with open arms into our Griff family," said head coach Lindsay McAlpine. "It was without question, without hesitation."
When his blood sugar didn't improve through the spring, doctors set a timeline.
"We were hoping to wait as long as possible because babies that are older and stronger have a better chance of surviving and overcoming the impacts of surgery," said Bourgeois, who waited anxiously as Lincoln went into surgery last June.
"It was a little more complicated than they had anticipated, so he was under for about eight hours. He was in the PCICU at the Mazankowski. It's a specialized intensive care unit for cardiology kids. He was there for two weeks just kind of hanging on. He finally got a bit stronger and was moved back into the regular cardiology ward. He spent about another seven weeks in the hospital during that stint."
Then, he started getting stronger. His tube came out. He no longer needed oxygen and was slowly weaned off his heart medication.
Now, just before his first birthday, Lincoln has a bright future ahead of him – one that probably includes hockey like Danielle Bourgeois, who was the CIS player of the year for the University of Alberta Pandas in 2004 and 2005.
"If you look at him, you'd never know he went through any of this," said Bourgeois. "He's big and almost walking and he yells a lot. He's a very loud and happy little guy."
And he has too many toys – ("We got like a kajillion presents at Christmas, so he does not need any presents for the next eternity," she joked).
So, when the family's guests arrive for Lincoln's first birthday on Sunday, they're asking them to bring food. She and Calderon plan to make food hampers out of the donations and deliver them (with Lincoln, of course) to the ICU at the Royal Alex, the cardiology unit at the Stollery and the PCICU at the Mazankowski – all wards that helped save his life.
"That's basically food for parents that are there," she said. "When you have a kid there, you can't leave. With the exception of the PCICU, which is one-to-one nurse care, in the other wards, it's three patients to one nurse. So no one's watching your child in between and you basically have to be there. Even to go get a meal somewhere, you need someone to watch your kid while you're gone."
It's the second time they'll be giving back to the PCICU; in September, Bourgeois and Calderon ran in the Edmonton Heart Beat Run with pledges going to the Mazankowski. They got the surprise of their lives when the entire Griffins women's hockey team showed up.
The Griffins women's hockey team came out en masse for the Heart Beat Run in September.
"Every single one of our 28 players came out that morning early," said McAlpine, who casually mentioned before the event that the coaches were participating and welcomed the players to come if they wished.
They wouldn't miss it for the world.
"They made signs and were really excited to be a part of it," said McAlpine. "It was without hesitation. They were eager and proud and willing to be at that finish line when Danielle and Lincoln crossed."
That meant the world to Bourgeois, who was emotional when recounting the day.
"It was kind of one of those moments where you know you have lots of support," she said. "It was just nice because I don't normally like to let people see the emotional side of me, so it was just nice to have them there.
"They love Lincoln," she continued. "I bring him to pre-game and they always wash their hands. They know he's immuno-compromised. He loves being around them. He doesn't get stranger danger around them. So, it's just been really awesome to have their support."
As Bourgeois reflects on the toughest year of any parent's life, she's struck by the amazing Canadian health care system where financial worries over care don't exist. She's also in awe of the world-class facilities and medical talent we are blessed to have in Edmonton.
And she's relieved to get to the other side of the battle.
"It's kind of hard to explain," she said. "You kind of go into survival mode, I guess. You just need to do what you need to do. It's terrible, but you kind of don't really realize it's so terrible until you're on the other side looking back."
Lincoln is nearly one and is growing into a healthy young lad for his parents Carla Calderon, left, and Danielle Bourgeois.
His latest medical appointment?
"With doctors it's 'you shouldn't let me know how bad it is, but I kind of need to know.' This time around you could tell they were so relieved and so happy," she said. "His heart's repaired now. He got the holes repaired, he got the valves reconstructed. The valve is looking good.
"As the muscle grows, tissues form. The human body is crazy that way, so everything's looking very good for him."
He even has a new best friend. McAlpine went into labour the same day that Lincoln was in surgery and gave birth to a baby boy named Hunter. Coming into the world when his pal needed the most support, Hunter and Lincoln will carry a special bond for life.
"He'd been waiting," said McAlpine of the day. "They're best buds now."