Colin Teets was 11 years old when he fell while skating backward at hockey practice. He attempted to shake off the pain he felt in his right leg and continue with more skating drills. But after his gloves kept falling off, Teets cried and he couldn’t speak.
He was immediately pulled off the ice. His father, Paul Teets, rushed from a meeting to his son, who lay twitching on the side of the rink.
Teets is now a senior forward on the Westlake High (Ohio) varsity team. He is partially paralyzed on his right side. His journey back to the ice since Oct. 10, 2008 – the day he nearly lost his life – has been a long one.
Teets’ brain ruptured from an Arteriovenous Malformation (AVM), an abnormal connection between arteries and veins that can develop anywhere in the body, but most often in the brain. In other words, his brain was hemorrhaging.
He was rushed to MetroHealth Medical Center, where he had emergency surgery to stop the hemorrhage. Teets remained in intensive care for almost two weeks before he transitioned to an inpatient rehabilitation facility for about two months and was fitted with a helmet to protect his brain because half of his skull was missing.
He had daily sessions of speech, occupational and physical therapies, during which he relearned how to talk, walk and read. He also met with a psychologist regularly to help adapt to the dramatic changes.
“It was rough, but I worked through it.” Teets said. “I kept reminding myself to go forward.”
He refused to believe doctors when he was told that he might not be able to walk again. Instead, he pushed himself harder, motivated by his intent to play hockey again in the future. Throughout the rehab process, Teets constantly thought about when he could get back on the ice.
The following January, he had a second surgery that lasted nine hours to remove the AVM. Two months later, he required a third surgery to replace a section of his skull, the bone flap, which was previously removed.
Teets continued therapy three days a week and resumed going to school at the end of March 2009 with assistance from a fulltime aid.
He didn’t feel ready to skate again until a couple of years later, at age 13. He stepped onto the ice inside a rink in North Olmsted, and Paul watched as his son let go from a side wall. Teets fell repeatedly because his drop foot on his right side made it difficult to push off.
“My stomach felt like a knot. It was heart wrenching,” Paul said. “But I was proud of him for trying.”
Teets went to a rink only a handful of times thereafter. He said he thought about giving up on attempting to play hockey again.
“I was scared,” Teets said. “I thought if I kept falling then something could break or people would laugh at me.”
Last year, he put his concerns aside and revived his passion for the game, which he fell in love with at age six. He said he’d missed gliding around on the ice and the camaraderie associated with being on a team.
So, during his junior year, he started to skate again, and Westlake hockey coach John Duke welcomed him on the team.
“I’m grateful for his coaches for giving him the opportunity to be part of something,” Paul said.
Added Duke, “He doesn’t look at himself as having any limitations. He’s a great deal of inspiration.”
Teets practices three days a week for an hour, rotating at multiple rinks around the west side of Cleveland. He uses an extended hockey stick with two tennis balls at the top, about six inches apart, to help maintain grip during practices and games. Duke said he designed certain plays around Teets.
“We’ve tried to use his abilities of knowing the game, and we utilize him in the offensive zones,” Duke said. “He’s developed enough ability to do what he wants. It’s a change for our opponents, who have to decide if they’ll cover him with one of their defensemen.”
Teets starts occasionally, and he typically gets up to two shifts per game, which Duke acknowledged is an achievement, considering the team plays in the red division, the highest in the area.
Duke and his players are amazed by Teets’ tenacity. Senior forward and captain Nate Greenberg said he and his teammates were completely shocked when Teets returned to hockey last year. His positive energy continues to uplift the team.
Greenberg said watching him work on improving his skating technique and puck skills pushes everyone to elevate their work ethic. He is impressed that Teets never backs down from a challenge.
“If you see a young person like him not getting down, it can only rub off on you and put your life into perspective,” Duke said. “The players feel his positive energy. He’s been a real asset to the team.”
Added Teets, “I’m thankful for all of the people who’ve helped me. I’m proud of what I’m able to do.
“I believe you can do anything. You just have to put it in your head.”