- Joe McDonald, ESPN Staff Writer
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His career was in question after he suffered a Grade 3 concussion on an Oct. 27, 2007, hit by the Philadelphia Flyers' Randy Jones that cost him the last 72 games of the season. Fortunately Bergeron recovered, returning to the ice last season, and is completely back to form now.
Any time Bergeron sees or hears about a hockey player suffering a head or neck injury, the news hits close to home for the 24-year-old.
When Matt Brown, a Norwood (Mass.) High School sophomore, was paralyzed while playing hockey in January, Bergeron quietly reached out to Brown and his family. Bergeron sent a letter and a signed jersey, telling Brown to stay positive and patient through the rehabilitation process.
"You never want to see something like that happen," Bergeron said.
Brown was recently moved from Children's Hospital in Boston to the Shepherd Center in Atlanta, which is considered one of the top rehab centers in the country. Since the Bruins will play the Thrashers in Atlanta on Tuesday, Bergeron met Brown and his family for the first time Monday night after the team arrived in town.
"I just want to go say 'Hi,' obviously meet him in person, because I haven't had a chance to meet him yet," Bergeron said before leaving for Atlanta. "I've been through it, but mine wasn't as serious as his condition. I've been through similar stuff, and it's hard to stay positive. Sometimes you can get down and frustrated, and it's something I want to share with him and make sure he's doing better. I'm excited to go and see him and his family."
Bergeron and his teammates put together a basket of Boston-related items to help Brown feel more at home. Bergeron collected movies, clam chowder and items from the other pro teams in Boston to give to Brown.
"I hope he likes it," Bergeron said.
Meanwhile, Bergeron's Bruins teammate Marc Savard is slowly recovering from a Grade 2 concussion he suffered March 7 in Pittsburgh, the result of a blindside hit by the Penguins' Matt Cooke. The Bruins have come to the realization that they will be without their top playmaker for the remainder of the season, which is a crushing blow to a team fighting for a postseason berth.
Savard remains at home, and the only moving around he's been doing is going to the hospital for examinations; according to coach Claude Julien, Savard has made little progress.
"He's still far behind," Julien said. "When we say 'better,' it's marginal; it's not a big, big step right now. But it's nice to know at least it's going in the right direction, and for him, that's important. Right now we can't even be considering him as a guy coming back soon."
Even if there was a possibility Savard could return this season, the Bruins aren't about to sacrifice his well-being. This isn't the first time he has suffered a concussion.
The hit on Savard was a lot less violent than the hit from behind Bergeron received that left him with the inability to perform everyday activities for a month. Bergeron was driven head-first into the boards, while Savard was struck in the head by an elbow just inside the blue line.
Dealing with a head injury is completely different for an athlete than a knee or groin injury.
"So much of head injuries are subjective," said one NHL trainer. "You can't really do anything from an exercise standpoint, from a skating standpoint, until there is at least a week minimum, if not two weeks, completely asymptomatic of symptoms such as headaches, nausea and photophobia [dizziness when looking into light]. Normal functional activities of daily living have to be completely symptom-free before you can even think about doing some sort of exercise."
Once an athlete like Savard gets to that point, the rehab process is still slow because he will have to gradually increase his exercise and heart rate on nonconsecutive days. While he is exercising, the medical staff will ask if he's experiencing blurred vision or headaches. Then they'll look for residual symptoms the following day.
It's a long process.
"I've been through that, and it's not fun," Bergeron said. "Once you have one [concussion] and realize how bad it is, and how strong the symptoms can be and how everyday things that you normally do can be hard to do. It's hard to understand for people who haven't been through it, but I do understand."
Bergeron hasn't spoken with Savard since his injury, but the two have exchanged text messages.
"I want to give him the time he needs," Bergeron said. "I know since I've been through it; sometimes you don't want to be a bad guy by not responding to a text message or phone calls, and sometimes it sets you back. I just want to give him time to rest."
When Bergeron received a follow-up text message, he was disappointed with Savard's response.
"The response wasn't great, and that's not what I wanted to hear, obviously," Bergeron said. "It doesn't seem like he's doing well. I don't want to bother him. Obviously I would love to talk to him, but at the same time I want to give him his space."
When Bergeron saw his teammate get hit and then lay motionless on the ice, it was an all-too-familiar feeling.
"As soon as I saw it on the ice, I felt it," Bergeron said. "I didn't like it and I didn't want to see it, especially to your friend. I really hope he's doing better. The priority is his health and to get back to 100 percent. My thoughts are obviously with him."
There's a very good possibility Savard will visit and speak with his teammates for the first time since the hit before the end of the week. But his role for the remainder of the season will be that of a spectator.
Joe McDonald covers the Bruins and Red Sox for ESPNBoston.com.