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Richards family thankful for support they received during difficult time

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NORWOOD - Colden R. Richards, like many middle school students in the north country, loves to play hockey with his friends, but when a rare brain disorder sidelined his season, this winter the 12 year old and his family realized just how many friends they really have.

“We don’t really know what happened. He just started getting terrible headaches,” his mother, Kelli J. Richards, said. “He’s had headaches his whole life, but he starting getting these severe headaches towards the end of January.”

Ms. Richards said as they learned more about arteriovenous malformations they learned it was actually something that Colden was born with.

“It could have been triggered by a hit to his head, but we don’t know,” Colden’s father, Mark D. Richards, noted.

According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, the overwhelming majority of people, roughly 88 percent, go their entire lives without showing AVM symptoms, noting it is rare for the malformation to actually show itself in a person of any age.

An AVM is essentially an abnormal connection between veins and arteries that often isn’t discovered until an autopsy or treatment for an unrelated disorder, the institute reports.

Colden’s headaches though became so severe that he began missing school and his parents knew there had to be something wrong.

“His pediatrician ordered some tests, and it was diagnosed on Feb. 10,” Ms. Richards said. “From the time he had his diagnosis to the time he had his surgery was really quick,” she said, adding he was treated at Children’s Hospital in Boston.

“It was Wednesday, Feb. 29,” Colden said, referring to the day of his operation. “I didn’t know what to expect, but I knew it was something I needed to get taken care of.”

The illness forced Colden to miss more than two months of school and the last month of his hockey season.

“I was upset about not being able to play hockey with my friends,” he said, adding he kept in touch with many of his friends by texting and playing X-Box Live. Several of his friends would also make periodic visits to the home.

In addition to missing the last month of his minor hockey season, Colden is also missing out on three on three hockey and the summer travel team he normally plays on.

“He usually plays hockey year-round. He plays on the USA Metro Selects and he plays three on three at the mall. He’s missing all of that,” Ms. Richards said, adding that Colden’s brother, Blake, who is 10, is actually playing in his place on the USA Metro Selects.

“That way he can still be on the bench with his friends,” Ms. Richards said.

When asked if there was every any thought of Colden not being able to play again, Ms. Richards said it wasn’t anything they ever gave much thought, but the possibility was definitely there.

“I think anytime anyone has surgery on their brain you hope for the best, but you don’t know what the outcome is going to be,” she said.

Colden is planning to return to his minor hockey team next fall.

“It will be nice to return to the ice with my friends and contribute to the team again,” Colden said.

While Colden may have physically been away from his team, he was and remains in the hearts of his teammates and their parents.

Gary R. Gushlaw serves on the Norfolk-Norwood Minor Hockey Association Board and helped to organize an event billed as “Goals For Colden.”

The event, held shortly after Colden’s operation, featured approximately 60 youth hockey players from the association, who each collected sponsors and then participated in a shoot-out, earning money for the Richards family with each goal they scored.

“It was a fundraiser that our association used to do for many years to pay our bills,” he said. “A lot of people hold jamborees, but I thought this was a good way to get the kids involved.”

Colden was unable to attend the event, but said he really appreciated the effort.

“They were being really nice. I like how they said they were going to cut their hair, because they thought I was going to get my head shaved.”

Ms. Richards said that shows just how supportive the local hockey community really was.

In addition to the Goals for Colden event, the association also collected donations through donation jugs placed at concession stands during their games.

And it was one of those jugs that led to another touching story.

As Norwood was hosting this year’s state tournament, parents from a team in Canandaigua noticed one of the jugs and inquired about Colden’s case. After hearing his story, they then returned to their section of the arena, passed the hat and collected a sizeable donation for Colden’s family.

“That’s the type of thing that was going on,” Mr. Richards said. “It really chokes you up. It was kids helping kids. Hockey is just a game and this helped the kids realize there are more important things than hockey.”

“We would like to give a big thanks to the Norfolk-Norwood Minor Hockey Association and anyone who was involved with Goals for Colden. A lot of people from the community contributed to that event. Our friends and family were extremely supportive and our workplaces were very understanding and supportive. There’s just so many people to say thank you to,” she said. “I also want to thank Dr. (Kathleen) Terrance and Dr. (Michael) Maresca for their work in finding a diagnosis.”

And while he may not be local, there was someone else Colden wanted to thank personally.

“We should also thank Dr. (Ed) Smith. He’s my best friend even though he likes the Bruins,” Colden, a Penguins fan, said, referring to his surgeon.

“It wasn’t just the hockey association, it was the entire community that came together to help our family and for that we will be eternally grateful,” Ms. Richards said.

“The school has also been awesome,” Ms. Richards said, explaining that among other things Colden is having a difficult time with reading, something that will often trigger headaches.

“He still has a lot of follow-up care,” Ms. Richards said, explaining he has to have one more angiogram, as well as annual MRIs, at least for the next several years.

“The cure rate is 98 percent with the surgery, so we’re optimistic for a full recovery,” she said.

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