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Another goal is reached

Norwood’s Brown visited by Bergeron

Norwood hockey player Matt Brown, who has a broken neck, had a special linemate yesterday — Patrice Bergeron. Norwood hockey player Matt Brown, who has a broken neck, had a special linemate yesterday — Patrice Bergeron. (Photo Courtesy of The Boston Bruins)
By Fluto Shinzawa
Globe Staff / March 23, 2010

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ATLANTA — Yesterday, Matt Brown’s afternoon began in Room 425 at the Shepherd Center with his mother making the mistake of grabbing some tissues for her son. Megan, Matt’s girlfriend, was returning home after a visit, and the two had just said their goodbyes.

“Washcloth,’’ a teary Matt corrected his mother, Sue, who wiped her son’s damp face.

The afternoon concluded, however, with a permanent smile showing off a mouthful of braces. Patrice Bergeron, one of Matt’s favorite players, had visited, bringing a Winter Classic duffle bag stuffed with goodies.

“Not too many people were going to top Megan,’’ Michael Brown, Matt’s father, told Bergeron. “But I think you did.’’

On Jan. 23, during a game between Norwood and Weymouth high schools at Hingham’s Pilgrim Arena, Michael Brown got an up-close look at something no father should see.

“My wife and I were standing at the boards, and he hit the boards right there. Right in front of me,’’ Michael recalled. “He went in and went down on the ice. He was on his side. I made eye contact with him and thought, ‘Boy, he just took a shot.’ He looked kind of dazed. Then I noticed his eyes were scared-looking, wild. I yelled, ‘Are you OK?’ He didn’t respond, but he was awake. I think right then and there, he realized something was wrong. And I knew it as soon as I got on the ice with him and got down. He was telling me, ‘I can’t move. I can’t move anything.’ ’’

Matt Brown broke his third and fourth cervical vertebrae, leaving him paralyzed. After an on-site EMT stabilized his neck, Brown was transported to South Shore Hospital in Weymouth. Recognizing the severity of the injury, doctors sent Brown to Children’s Hospital in Boston. Brown underwent surgery at Children’s, then was flown to Shepherd, the Atlanta facility specializing in treating patients with spinal cord injuries, on Feb. 17.

Throughout Brown’s experience, Bergeron had been watching and reading about his recovery. Bergeron understands the trauma of a serious injury more than most NHLers. On Oct. 27, 2007, Bergeron suffered a Grade 3 concussion. Then, on Dec. 20, 2008, Bergeron was felled by another concussion when he ran into current teammate Dennis Seidenberg, then playing for Carolina.

“That was harder,’’ Bergeron recalled of the second concussion. “You get one, but then you’re back to normal and feeling fine. Then you’ve got to start from scratch again from the second one. So that was tougher.’’

So when Brown was at Children’s, Bergeron sent him a signed jersey (“To Matt, Stay Positive!’’ read the message in silver marker) and a note. Bergeron encouraged Brown to be patient and positive.

“Regardless of what the end result is, it’s going to be a long process,’’ said Sue Brown, citing the spinal cord injuries to former college players Travis Roy (Boston University) and John Gilpatrick (Suffolk), both ex-Shepherd patients. “It’s not tomorrow.’’

Bergeron wanted to meet Brown in person. With the Bruins arriving in Atlanta yesterday in advance of tonight’s game, Bergeron could visit Brown at Shepherd.

Room 425 was already a mini-Hockey Hall of Fame. Brown, a left wing for Norwood, has been the center of well wishes throughout the hockey community. There are signed jerseys from the Thrashers, Maple Leafs, Islanders, and Panthers hanging on the wall. A signed Ilya Kovalchuk picture rests on the window sill. A signed Eric Boulton stick sits in the corner. Steve Moore, the ex-Harvard star injured in 2004 during the Colorado-Vancouver dust-up, sent a signed picture that hangs on the wall.

But the Browns are quick to point out that Bergeron’s jersey, which hangs to the right of their son’s bed and wheelchair, was the only piece of memorabilia the family brought from Children’s to Shepherd. Before Bergeron’s arrival, Matt asked a nurse to place a suction tube through his neck (he has undergone a tracheotomy) to clear out his lungs so he could be ready to greet his visitor.

Bergeron was late because Atlanta weather delayed the Bruins’ arrival. But when he arrived, he greeted the Browns, then approached Matt to brief him on his bag’s contents, which included a team shirt, jacket, sweatshirt, and pennants and hats from the other Boston teams. With a grimace, Brown lifted his head off his wheelchair, allowing his mother to slip a Bruins hat onto his head. Sue Brown said he couldn’t have done that two weeks ago.

“I’ve had some injuries and some concussions,’’ Bergeron told the 15-year-old, whose birthday is April 11. “All I can say is stay positive and stay patient. It’s tough to stay patient. Especially when you’re feeling down and not feeling well. But things will get better.’’

Bergeron then pulled out his Olympic gold medal from his right pocket. Brown asked Bergeron what it was like to play in the Olympics. Bergeron replied it was awesome, even though he didn’t play much.

In his whisper, Brown asked Bergeron who was the funniest guy on the team. Bergeron said it was Shawn Thornton, which prompted Brown to rave about the tough guy’s beatdown of Pittsburgh’s Matt Cooke last week.

“Shawn Thornton kicked the crap out of Matt Cooke,’’ said Brown, his eyes growing wide.

The two posed for pictures with the medal, Bergeron handed off his gifts, and they said goodbye.

“Tell the team I said hi,’’ Brown said.

Tonight, Brown, his family, his therapists, and several boys from Shepherd’s fourth floor will be in attendance at Philips Arena. The plan is for Brown to stay at Shepherd until April 28, when he’ll return to his Norwood home, which is undergoing renovations in anticipation of his arrival. Friends of the Browns are installing an elevator Matt can ride to get into the house. On April 30, there will be a benefit at Gillette Stadium.

Last week, Brown had movement in his left biceps, which led him to rotate his left wrist. Doctors are now hoping muscles will fire in his right arm.

“You’re here for 6 to 10 hours, then you go home for six or seven days and come back,’’ said Michael Brown, who takes shifts with his wife (their 14-year-old daughter Kelley is staying with family) in Atlanta and Norwood. “You don’t see the progress that he’s making until you step away, then come back. My wife came today and said that he looks better.

“His mind-set is growing stronger. There’s movement in his biceps and wrist. These are small gains. But as we say, we’re patching together a quilt here. This little square attaches to another square, and now we’ve built up that little corner. Hopefully, someday it’s going to cover his whole body. We firmly continue to believe and hope and pray that he’ll walk again and make a recovery.’’

To make a donation to Brownie Points, a fund for the Brown family, visit www.mattbrownnumber3.org. Fluto Shinzawa can be reached at fshinzawa@globe.com.

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