Survivor recounts road to recovery following Humboldt Broncos bus crash

News source from CTV News

It’s been almost a year since 16 people were killed and another 13 were injured in a bus crash on a Saskatchewan highway and a member of the Humboldt Broncos hockey team who survived the crash is hoping to return to the team next year.

Graysen Cameron’s life was forever changed on April 6th when his team’s bus was involved in a crash with a transport truck south of the town of Nipawin.

Graysen, from Olds, Alberta, signed with the Humboldt Broncos for the 2017/2018 season and broke his L4 vertebrae in the crash.

“We were in shock, didn’t know what was going on,” he said.

Pam Cameron, Graysen’s mother, rushed to her son’s side following the crash.

“The boys were within the same room but separated. They kept asking for each other, where’s Derek, where’s Graysen?” she said. “We started by peeling back the curtains, they could see each other and then Graysen’s like ‘mom, can you please just wheel my bed over?’ So we finally wheeled his bed over there and the rest is kind of history.”

“They stayed like that for about two hours. I don’t think he really remembers that but they were like that for about two hours.”

“We just kind of grabbed each other’s hands and it was an emotional moment,” said Graysen.

The teammates took a photo of the reunion and it became a symbol of strength for the families, victims and Canadians who rallied behind the team in the wake of the tragedy.

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“We were having a hard time when we were in hospital just understanding the magnitude of it all. With him in shock, we were all in shock, so it was really, really hard to wrap our brain around anything outside of those hospital walls at the time,” said Pam. “It’s restored my faith in mankind a lot to see the outpouring. We have received countless letters and cards and gifts and people that just stop you in the street and tell you ‘hey we are thinking about you’, it definitely helps, It’s hard, sometimes it feels like a burden but for the most part it’s been a godsend.”

“That whole first couple weeks are still kind of a blur. It was just kind of crazy to see that everywhere and just see all the support from millions of people around the world,” said Graysen. “It was a pretty special photo that I think will live on forever.”

CTV first talked to Graysen two months after the crash and he was still adjusting to his new normal after undergoing back surgery.

“I had a fusion done with that, between my L3 and 5 and then I had a surgery later on, back in November to remove the implants so now I have a bone graft between my L3 and 4 now,” he said.

He says he’s come a long way since then and is working hard to regain his strength.

“There’s still lots of muscular pain. I’m still not as strong as I was before but that’s what I’m working towards in rehab is building up my core strength and getting that muscle back.”

Hockey has been a big part of Graysen’s life and the 19-year-old suited up on the other side of the bench this past season in Red Deer with his former triple ‘A’ team.

“I definitely accepted the fact that I’d never have a chance to play competitive sports again,” he said. “There’s so much more to life than hockey. Hockey is about the relationships and the memories you make playing it and I tried to stress that a little bit on them just because of what I’ve gone through and I hope they kind of took that and it meant something to them and made them better people as well because that’s what hockey is all about.”

“He’s probably the strongest human I’ve ever known, just for what he’s going through and the work that he’s doing, how determined he really is,” said Pam.

Graysen will be forever tied to the tragedy but after a year, he is preparing to head down a path that doctors told him he’d never take.

“I’m hoping to be making a return to play again next year. It’s a goal of mine that kind of fell on my lap and I was lucky enough to have the chance to maybe come back. It’s just a goal for right now but it’s number one on my mind and that’s what I’m working towards all summer, he said.

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He says he is training hard for another homecoming and is hoping to wear his Broncos jersey again soon.

“I know it’s going to be hard if it ends up working out and I end up being able to play there again. And I know it’s going to be, there’s probably going to be some spotlight on me a bit but I just want to play hockey again and that’s all I’m focused on right now, is getting back, getting back on the ice,” he said. “I definitely want to go back for those guys who can’t but also I know that if it doesn’t work out that they’ll always have my back no matter what and so it’s definitely a little bit for me too to prove I can come back from this.”

“I have a lot of anxiety as a mom about it, mostly physically, just his physical history with his injuries. Although he’s healed, he’s got that history so I ideally want to just put bubble wrap around him,” said Pam. “The most proud I am of him over the last year is the work he has put in, in his recovery to get to where he is today. To get to a point where physically he’s able to think about sports again and mentally and emotionally I think he’s done really well with his therapy too.”

Pam says changes need to be made to the trucking industry at the federal level to ensure crashes like this don’t happen again.

‘It needs to happen now, we’re running out of time. There should be no more lives lost on this. It doesn’t just affect the Humboldt Broncos, there’s many people out there who have lost family members to tragedy on the roads. There are a lot of trucks on the road and we need to make it safe, it’s just that simple,” she said. “It’s the ones that are not complying with those ideals that need to disappear and turn it around. Turn it into a safe place. I don’t want to have to worry every time my kids are in a vehicle on the highway.”

Graysen says he suffers from PTSD and it has impacted his sleep and other aspects of his life but he is now ready to take a step forward.

“Everyone is on their own pace of recovery and mine is just trying to find what’s right for me,” he said. “I’ve come a long way, it’s been a long road, but I’m really on the upside here.”

Graysen is also focused on raising awareness about mental health and helping to end the stigma surrounding mental health issues.

(With files from CTV Calgary’s Bill Macfarlane)

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