Holland Bloorview gives hockey player another shot

Dom Cozzolino scored on his very first shot in sledge hockey – how’s that for a sign? That was six years ago and since then, the talented 23-year-old Mississauga resident has scored plenty of goals. In fact, he was a forward for Canada’s Para Ice Hockey team that brought home silver at the 2018 Paralympic Winter Games.

Over the past six years, Dom has proudly worn the Canadian national jersey in plenty of games. In addition to this year’s Paralympic games, Dominic and his teammates have earned gold medals at the 2017 International Para Hockey Tournament and the 2017 World Para Ice Hockey Championships.

Despite a hectic training schedule, he always has time to talk about the hospital that helped him get back on his feet, physically and mentally. Holland Bloorview was huge in changing my outlook after my accident, said Dom. I wouldn’t be who I am today without the amazing staff and friends I made at the hospital.

Dominic Cozzolino during AA hockey in 2009

When Dom arrived at Holland Bloorview in 2009, he was shooting for something else – to be able to walk again. On March 2 of that year, Dom was 14-years-old and playing in an AA hockey playoff game.

He took a shot on goal and was immediately checked from behind. He felt a vibration go up his spine and lost all feeling in his legs. Dom had suffered a compression fracture to one of his vertebra just above his tailbone. The vertebra literally exploded, sending bone fragments into his spinal canal, causing serious nerve damage. Dom underwent an eight-hour operation and was told he had a 50-50 chance of ever walking again.

Dom fondly remembers being an inpatient at Holland Bloorview. The staff were excellent in making you feel like you're part of their home, he said. His days were a flurry of physiotherapy sessions, mixed in with keeping up with his high school courses.

Often, Dom would look at his old hockey jersey that hung in his hospital room. I'd look at it and think about what happened, he said. But he didn’t dwell on it. He was too focused on his recovery. I remember the first time I started walking again, said Dom.

As his hands gripped the therapy parallel bars and he started moving his legs, his hockey coach popped in for a visit and witnessed his first few steps. It was a special moment for both of them.

During his stay at Holland Bloorview, Dom gained much more than strength and mobility – he gained a new mindset and perspective. You meet so many people going through their own challenges and everyone has such a positive outlook, he said. So it's tough to feel sorry for yourself for very long.

Fast forward to 2011, two years after his injury, when a physiotherapist mentioned sledge hockey to Dom. He suited up to give it a try. When that very first shot went into the net, Dom knew he had found hockey again.