On the ice, Matt Thomson is a menace; a wrecking ball with a mustache. Off the ice, he is a gentle giant with a mustache, and now a new dad.
Alora Quinn Thomson was born early in the morning April 30, weighing 4.5-pounds. She arrived a month ahead of schedule when doctors couldn’t find her stomach during a routine ultrasound appointment.
“We were already planning on an early due date, but after the appointment, they decided to induce labour that day,” said Emily Wegner, Thomson’s girlfriend of two years.
Alora was born with gastroschsis, a non-fatal birth defect occurring roughly one in every 2,000 births. Babies are born with their intestines sticking out through the baby’s abdominal wall.
“It was stressful because there was so much unknown, but at the same time I was excited for her to be born,” said Thomson, who was working when Wegner entered labour. He quickly raced home, showered, changed and headed over to the Foothills Medical Centre.
Wegner was in labour for more than five hours until Alora decided she was ready to enter the world. Waiting in the wing was a team from the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), who quickly whisked her away to the NICU where she was bandaged up and waited for an ambulance to be taken to the Calgary children’s hospital.
Alora immediately entered surgery and it wasn’t until two days later that Thomson and Wegner could hold their daughter for the first time.
“It was easily one of the most emotional moments of my life,” recalled Wegner.
For the tentative future, Thomson and Wegner were required to stay at the Ronald McDonald House while Alora stayed in the Children’s hospital to get worked on.
Typically a long waiting list for entry, two openings popped up, allowing Thomson and Wegner to move in.
“The people there were so welcoming and caring. I’m very appreciative of what they do there,” said Thomson, who only spent nights there, as he worked throughout the day.
The Ronald McDonald House provided meals in a central location for families and councillors were constantly available to talk to.
Nurses and doctors at the hospital estimated that it would take Alora anywhere from six to 12 months to fully recover.
She was sent home nearly five weeks after being born.
Cherise Conway is a nurse at the hospital and was incredibly impressed by Alora’s recovery time.
“It’s tough to tell how the baby will do from the beginning because every baby is different. She took the food pretty quickly, quicker than normal. Once the baby starts feeding, she should be good to go. She did way better than we expected,” said Conway.
“Some of the other nurses kept telling us how impressed they were. One even said that we probably got a little bit of help from someone up there,” said Thomson.
That someone might have been Quinton Peplinski, one of Thomson’s closest friends for the past nine years.
Peplinski passed away in a car crash five minutes from home March 26, nearly a month before Alora was born, the same day as Wegner’s birthday and her baby shower.
Thomson, who came up with the name Alora, also decided it would be a great way to honour his friend by using the name Quinn as Alora’s middle name,
“When I told (Quinton’s parents) it brought a smile to their faces and a happy tear,” said Thomson. “Quinton was a great guy; he was funny and really smart. He probably been a millionaire by the time he was 30.”
Alora conveniently arrived in the offseason for both parents. Wegner is a figure skating coach out of Nanton and Thomson is thriving in his third season with the Strathmore Wheatland Kings. As a bulking winger, Thomson is second in team scoring with 13 goals and 23 points through 19 games.
“I never wanted Matt to not play hockey. His schedule isn’t that demanding and Alora makes it out to most of his home games,” said Wegner.
“She is a hit with the moms in the crowd,” added Thomson.
At home, Alora is a very happy baby. Fully healthy, she is moving around, bouncing lots as she fumbles around learning to crawl.
“Matt is a really great dad. She definitely prefers him over me — maybe because he’s only changed about six diapers since she has been home,” said Wegner.
Back working, Thomson spends as much time with his daughter as he can. That’s also where he came up with the idea for a toy drive.
“Matt kind of just walked into our office one day out of the blue and said he wanted to do a toy drive for the Ronald McDonald house for Christmas time. We all loved the idea and did everything possible to make this happen for him,” said Kings sponsorship/game day organizer Tara Busslinger. “I’ve known Matt for about seven years, and it is night and day how much he has matured since becoming a dad.”
Busslinger reached out to Sarah Heibein, the community events coordinator for the Ronald McDonald House, and began to plan the toy drive.
“We were thrilled when we heard about his idea. We have 23 rooms here with lots of kids in need for toys to brighten their lives,” said Heibein. “We have kids here from the prenatal stages all the way up to 18-years-old.”
The Kings will host “Fill a Dodge Truck Box with New, Unwrapped Toys” on Dec. 10 when the Kings welcome the Okotoks Bisons to the Strathmore Family Centre. Puck drop is set for 8 p.m. The Bisons and their fans are aware about the toy drive and are looking forward to contributing, says Bisons general manager Brent Trevors.
Anyone showing up with a new toy gets in free. There is no limit to how many toys people can bring. Seen as it is already a Shoot To Win night, there will be a Dodge truck parked outside the arena — fans head over to the truck, donate a toy and they will get a stamp to enter the game.
“I would just like to thank my parents, Emily’s parents, the people at the Ronald McDonald House and the Kings for all their efforts in making this happen,” said Thomson.
“This was all Matt’s idea and it really impressed me. It is unimaginable thinking about all those kids having to spend Christmas there,” said Wegner.
Thomson and a crew of Kings plan to deliver the toys to the Ronald McDonald House following the toy drive.