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How the determination of a Kamloops football player puts better days in sight

Though his body hasn't recovered Mutrie's mind is still healthy. He is using it to give back to the next generation of Kamloops football players like we see here at a Westsyde practice on Wednesday, Sept 20, 2017.
October 06, 2017 - 8:00 PM

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KAMLOOPS - I met Evan Mutrie at the Westsyde Secondary football field on a bitterly cold afternoon in September. After he was helped out of his specially designed van I walked over to say hello and ask him how he's doing.

"Pretty fucking terrible," he said. "It's cold, and I don't know what I'm doing here."

After trying to add some more blankets and get comfortable, he decided it wasn't worth braving the cold. Instead of coaching football that day he ended up staying in his van.

"I'm sorry," he said, noticing my reaction. "It's not your fault, I'm just having a bad day."

Three years ago, the 22-year-old from Kamloops would have been playing football on a field like this. That was before a rare virus rendered him quadriplegic with only limited movement in some of his muscles and the ability to speak. Evan still has bad days like this, but fewer lately thanks to the support of his friends and family, as well as getting back on the football field.

While in high school, the three o'clock bell meant a return to Evan's sanctuary on the Valleyview Vikings football field. While getting grass in his teeth and blood on his jersey are things of the past, he is reconnecting with that part of his life by joining his high school coach who has moved to Westsyde to coach the Blue Wave. Evan also helps out with the Kamloops Broncos.

Mutrie makes a tackle for the Broncos in this 2014 photo.
Mutrie makes a tackle for the Broncos in this 2014 photo.
Image Credit: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Allen Douglas
"It's a good way to keep myself busy and keep my mind occupied," he says. "It gives me an excuse to get out of the house which is nice. I get kind of cooped up once in a while so it’s good to have something that's normal and different than the hospital life. More reminiscent of my real life."

The memory of that "real life" is still very painful for Evan and his family. He says there have been many tears shed trying to wrap their heads around what's happened.

"It's pretty emotional," he says. "And sometimes even when I'm feeling OK or I feel normal or I feel strong, I see people... like my parents, and if they're sad it instantly hits me in the gut."

Watching how his condition has impacted his mom and dad has only added more weight to his load.

"Your parents, they're your idols they're above you and they take care of you," he says. "To see them ripped apart and to see them so weakened by it is a real shock."

Evan's internal strength is well-known to his coaches and teammates, and he's had to call on it even more to help himself and his loved ones get through this.

"It's pretty hard already, but I feel like other people may not handle it as well. But it is tough," he says. "I've cried for days over it. There's lots of tears and frustration. I can't even squeeze my fist so it gets really frustrating when you can't express yourself in any way except for your words. It's not like I can give my mom a hug when she's crying."

Evan's dad Peter has a hard time watching what's happened to his son, unable to help. He can make a fist, but has no one to blame. No one but God. 

"He lost all credibility with me," Peter says. "I used to have a certain faith. Now I'm just angry. If I'm angry (God's) my target. Because you don't deserve it, nobody in this room deserves it."

Peter hasn't lost all faith but instead he puts that in the community that has offered and given them the love and support he expected from God.

"The true gold in all of this is people," he says. "My faith in God is trashed, gone. But my faith in human nature has sky-rocketed. People are wonderful. God's a jerk, but people are great."

NEW FAITH

Peter also has found a renewed faith in the medical system. It hasn't offered a cure, but he feels fortunate.

"Let's count our lucky stars here for a few minutes," Peter says. "If this had happened in a third-world country we would've lost him. He's gone; dead, buried, a fond memory. That's it. If it happened in the United States, I'd need three lifetimes to pay for it.... It happened in Canada where the system helped us, supported us, and has helped bring us together. They've pulled out all the stops and done everything that's humanly possible."

They've been told the grieving process takes five years but they aren't waiting around for the pain to go away or for Evan to miraculously get better. They've become "amateur scientists," keeping up with developments around nervous system repair and regeneration.

Their searching has led them to a nerve damage specialist who happens to live in Kamloops as well. Dr. Richard Brownlee has expressed interest in Evan's case and while it's unclear whether he will be able to help, it has offered hope.

"We had a pretty promising meeting with him, just an initial assessment," Evan says. "We may end up doing a spinal cord treatment with stem cells."

"Stem cells are sort of magical they just kind of fix whatever's broken and they don't need to be steered or anything they just naturally will go and fix whatever it is if it's broken nerve cells or broken bones or whatever it can be. I don't know if anybody has done any research with my specific disease. My condition is transverse myelitis which is spinal cord swelling which I got from the virus that I caught."

That explanation, a rare virus that caused his spinal cord to swell, has been the best answer offered to the Mutries about how this happened, how an active kid in his prime could be cut down and stopped in an instant.

Being involved in sports again has allowed Evan to keep his mind busy. He says that is one of the biggest struggles of his condition; avoiding boredom and a return to negative thought. He says he tries to think positively about the future but can't yet consider goals and plans beyond his medical condition.

"It really is day by day. Near future is sort of the only thing I can look at right now," he says. "The next year or two is really all I'm looking at. I'll be involved with the Broncos in the off season, I get to the gym with them. I do make plans in the offseason. I write up speed and agility and weight lifting and that sort of thing so I've got meal plans and all that figured out for all the guys who are trying bulk up or slim down and get faster and stronger."

A TURN FOR THE BETTER

"So that's kind of my near future plan I guess is just be involved with sports. And we'll see, I'm trying to see what medical stuff is around because there are possibilities for me to be in clinical trials in the States or in Canada. It would be really far off if I did go to Europe but there's stuff going on all over the world. I've been connected to a network."

Spending more time involved with sports and learning about the science of his condition has helped Evan learn to deal with his situation. While he still has memories of his "real life" and hopes for a day when he can return to it, he is finding that over time he is learning to handle the physical and emotional challenges more positively.

"I'm probably starting to have more good days than bad finally," he says. "I would say only in the past couple months it's starting to turn around for the better. Things are getting better slowly. But of course we are sort of living in hell right now. It's not like it's going away any time soon but I think as it gets easier to cope with, my attitude gets better and the more experience I have with this the easier it gets for me to handle it.

"It becomes a little less frustrating, I guess, in way, but I mean, it's still pretty much the ultimate piss off."

A GoFundMe account has been set up for Evan and has raised over $30,000 that has gone towards his care. To donate, go here.

Mutrie is part of a team once again as he has joined his former high school coach at Westsyde Secondary.
Mutrie is part of a team once again as he has joined his former high school coach at Westsyde Secondary.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Mike McDonald or call 250-819-3723 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2017
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