If you are part of the organ transplant community, the Saturday night NHL game that had the Carolina Hurricanes meeting the Maple Leafs in Toronto really was one to remember.
You can bet that the NHL pooh-bahs won’t have found it overly entertaining, but it was . . . it really was!
After all, it’s not every night when you get to watch a 42-year-old Zamboni driver who has had a kidney transplant play goal in an NHL game. Not only did Dave Ayres, at the age of 42 years 194 days, tend goal, but he ended up with the victory, stopping eight of 10 shots as the Hurricanes won, 6-3.
Ayres became the second-oldest goaltender in NHL history to win in his NHL debut. The first? Lester Patrick, then the general manager and head coach of the New York Rangers, was in goal for a 2-1 OT victory over the Montreal Maroons in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup final on March 20, 1927. Patrick was 44 years and 99 days old. For the record, Patrick stopped 18 of 19 shots.
Ayres did set one NHL record as the oldest goaltender to win his regular-season debut. Hugh (Old Eagle Eyes) Lehman of the Chicago Black Hawks was 41 years 21 days when he won his first game in 1926-27.
In our home, it all began when I saw the above tweet and words “kidney transplant” jumped off my computer screen.
I hadn’t yet flipped over to the NHL game in Toronto. However, after seeing this tweet, I immediately changed the channel. I was just in time to see Carolina G Petr Mrázek go down in a collision with Toronto F Kyle Clifford at 11:19 of the second period. The Hurricanes had lost G James Reimer at 3:07 of the opening period in a collision that resulted in Mrázek entering and Ayres having to get into his goaltending gear.
But now Mrázek was hurt and the rest, as they say, became history.
If you didn’t see the game, the Hurricanes held a 3-1 lead when Ayres entered, and they quickly made it 4-1. But the Maple Leafs scored goals on their first two shots on Ayres as the Hurricanes struggled to get to the intermission with a lead.
They were able to do that, then scored two early third-period goals to stretch their 4-3 lead to 6-3 and give Ayres some breathing room. Ayres was steady in the third period, while his new teammates really shut down the home side, much to the dismay of the crowd.
During the second intermission, I headed for the Internet to find out what I could about Ayres. I didn’t care about his hockey-playing background; I wanted to know about his kidney issues.
I found this from St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto, from the Nov. 18, 2019, edition of The Globe and Mail:
“Like many kids growing up in Canada, Dave Ayres wanted to play hockey in the NHL.
“He was 25 and at a hockey training camp when his feet became so swollen he couldn’t put on his skates. Then one day while driving, he became so dizzy he nearly hit someone.
“It was Thanksgiving weekend when he ended up in the ER. His kidneys were working at 15 per cent capacity and he had to start dialysis immediately. Three days a week, four hours at a time, for the next seven months.
“Then in May, he came to St. Michael’s Hospital’s Kidney Transplant and Care Centre, where he received a new kidney, courtesy of his mom.”
A native of Whitby, Ont., Ayres underwent a kidney transplant in 2004. After donning gear for an outdoor practice with the Maple Leafs just last month, he told Lance Hornby of the Toronto Sun about those days:
“I told the doctor at St. Michael’s Hospital I needed to get back because I was supposed to go to the (Central Hockey League’s) Laredo Bucks. They said ‘we’ll try our best’ and my Mom (Mary) was a match. They ended up moving me along pretty quick (for the operation), about a year after I got sick.”
In his other life, Ayres drives the Zamboni at the Coca-Cola Coliseum, the home of the AHL’s Toronto Marlies. He also has been on the ice with the Marlies and Maple Leafs on occasion, as he was for the outdoor practice.
In yet another twist to this story, Ayres told media after Saturday’s game that he is scheduled to practice with the Maple Leafs on Monday. I am thinking that practice session just might draw a bit of press coverage.
Here’s more from St. Michael’s Hospital:
“Dave’s case is not unusual, but he was one of the lucky ones. In Canada, one in 10 people has kidney disease — that’s the population of Vancouver and Calgary combined. It’s a chronic disease with no chance of remission. And it’s considered a silent killer because there are few symptoms — apart from the swelling and dizziness, like in Dave’s case, there can be fatigue, chills, back pain, itching — but it’s still difficult to detect. With an aging population, increasing rates of obesity and high blood pressure, and an epidemic of diabetes (the leading cause of kidney disease), the numbers are only going up.
“Some people can live with kidney disease for years, and many do — when it’s caught early enough and treated properly. But in too many cases, the kidneys fail, leaving only two options: dialysis or a kidney transplant. “Dialysis can take over a person’s life. And it’s not a life saver: half of patients 65 years of age and older starting dialysis today will not be alive in five years. And while transplant is by far the best solution, 3,600 Canadians are on the waiting list. It’s not a permanent fix either: a kidney from a deceased donor will last on average 10 to 15 years, and from a living donor 15 to 20 years.”
Shortly after game’s end, the Hurricanes announced that t-shirts with Ayres’ name and number (90) already were available via their online shop and that a portion of the proceeds will be going to a kidney foundation.
As I have written about here previously, kidney disease isn’t going away. There isn’t a cure — a transplant really is just a form of treatment. But what is needed more than anything is more education. People from all walks of life need to understand that while there isn’t a cure, you can have kidney disease and get on with your life; if you are fortunate enough to have a transplant, you don’t have to forget about your dreams.
Dave Ayres is proof of that.
Roy Cooper is the governor of North Carolina:
If you are interested in being a living kidney donor, more information is available here:
Living Kidney Donor Program
St. Paul’s Hospital
6A Providence Building
1081 Burrard Street
Vancouver, BC V6Z 1Y6
Toll free: 1-877-922-9822