From a Wheelchair to Skating With a Hockey Pro

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by Jackie Babiarz |

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When my daughter Cammy, 12, made it her goal to skate with professional hockey player Duncan Keith, the results exceeded all of our expectations.

Cammy’s goal, which I shared on social media, was chosen to be featured as part of the Chicago Blackhawks’ #WhatsYourGoal campaign in 2015. The production agency did a lot of research about Cammy, Rett syndrome, and how the condition affects her before the video shoot.

We thought Keith would push Cammy around in her wheelchair on the ice, but the video producer had another idea. He’d seen several social media posts where Cammy was using a harness device attached to one of us so she could stand up, and asked if I thought it would work for skating. It hadn’t crossed my mind to use the Upsee harness, but it was a brilliant idea.

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When we arrived at Johnny’s IceHouse, an ice hockey facility in Chicago, Cammy couldn’t contain her excitement, and kept kicking her legs and giggling. When Keith entered, she sighed and marveled at him. He knelt next to her and spoke to her as if communicating with a nonverbal child in a wheelchair was the most natural thing in the world. She looked at him lovingly when he asked to take a selfie with her.

Keith put skates on Cammy and we headed to the ice, where he put on the Upsee. Cammy could not stop smiling. My nonambulatory child was actually about to skate.

They took off. She was beside herself, doing something she might never have thought possible. Keith guided her hands on the hockey stick as they pretended to make a fast break like Blackhawks player Patrick Kane. They shot the puck as goaltender Antti Raanta dove to block it unsuccessfully. Cammy was as proud as if she had made the winning shot in the Stanley Cup Finals.

After unhooking Cammy from the Upsee, Keith just held and hugged her as they chatted on the ice. He kissed her and cared for her like she was his own child. Keith could not have been more nurturing with Cammy.

Rett Syndrome News | Former Chicago Blackhawks player Duncan Keith skates with Cammy as part of the team's #WhatsYourGoal campaign in 2015.

Pro defenseman Duncan Keith skates with Cammy at Johnny’s IceHouse in Chicago, in 2015. (Screenshot via youtube.com)

When the skating was finished, Cammy chatted with Keith using her eye-gaze device. He knelt beside her in awe as she navigated the communication tool quickly and efficiently.

When the production was over, Cammy was completely exhausted. We had to keep the experience a secret until the video aired a few weeks later.

It went viral after being shared on social media on March 5, 2015. Cammy must have been Keith’s lucky charm, as the Blackhawks won the championship that spring, and Keith won the Conn Smythe Award for most valuable player in the playoffs.

Years later, Keith still checks in on Cammy, and their friendship remains strong.


Note: Rett Syndrome News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Rett Syndrome News, or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to Rett syndrome.

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