MacLean ecstatic to have the opportunity to play hockey

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Where are they now? - Carol Dunn

Joel MacLean of Pictou is shown playing hockey with the Pictou bantam C Maripacs. MacLean had a kidney transplant when he was two-years-old, and has always wanted to play hockey, but was only cleared to play the sport this year. 

For years, Joel MacLean has been asking his parents to let him play hockey. This year they finally said yes, and for the first time the 14-year-old is living his dream.

“He’s always wanted to play,” says his mother Denise, explaining that she and his father Trent agreed this season, but with hesitation.

Shortly after birth, the Pictou teen was diagnosed with Congenital Nephrotic Syndrome of the Finnish type, which causes the body to excrete too much protein. Joel’s kidneys then failed when he was two years old, and Denise donated one of her kidneys to save his life.

Because of the transplant and the side effects of some of the medications Joel must take to prevent his body from rejecting the kidney, it can be more dangerous for Joel to play hockey.

“We wanted him to stay away from contact sports,” said Trent. “Just basically a blow to the kidney region could do him more harm than most.”

Joel takes the steroid prednisone as part of his anti-rejection regimen, and as a result developed Perthes Disease. The condition affects the hips and is associated with bone loss from long-term steroid use.

“This was another reason why I was reluctant to let him play hockey,” says Denise.

The MacLeans allowed their son to play after his doctor gave permission, and because of Joel’s persistence.

“He won us over this year,” said Trent.

“He presented a very good argument,” said Denise. “He researched which hockey pants would give the best coverage for his hips.”

Joel is now a member of the Pictou bantam C Maripacs team, something he’s wanted for a long time. He learned to skate as a youngster, and played road hockey, but never played on the ice.

“He wanted to be involved in a team sport – all of his friends play,” said Denise.

The Grade 9 student at Pictou Academy is a forward for the Maripacs, and the team has won most of its games so far this season. Joel’s favourite NHL team is the Pittsburgh Penguins, and their star centre Sidney Crosby is his favourite player.

When he was granted a wish from the Children’s Wish Foundation several years ago, he asked to skate with Crosby. Unfortunately, the foundation wasn’t able to grant his wish at the time because the hockey superstar from Cole Harbour, N.S. was dealing with symptoms related to a concussion.

Because he wasn’t able to skate with Crosby, instead Joel and his family, which also includes older brother Joshua, were the recipients of a trip to Disney World in Florida from Children’s Wish.

Joel was featured in The News when he participated in the New Glasgow Wishmaker Parade in 2008. The annual event raises money for the Children’s Wish Foundation, which grants wishes to children diagnosed with a life threatening illness.

On Nov. 21 Joel celebrated the 12th anniversary of his transplant with a family dinner, a more low-key celebration than the fireworks the family had every year until the 10th anniversary.

Joel travels to the IWK Hospital in Halifax every two weeks for lab work and a check-up with his nephrologist, and will likely need another kidney transplant.

“When he got the transplant we were told the life of the kidney would be about 10 years. Now they’re saying people with transplants can last much longer,” said Denise. “He’s done well with this kidney.”

Trent says medical advances have allowed Joel to surpass that time frame, and adds that a recent check-up showed Joel has good kidney function. When the time comes for another transplant, Trent is planning to donate a kidney to his son.

Other than the anti-rejection drugs he must take every day for the rest of his life, and keeping an eye on his diet, Joel is able to live much like any other Nova Scotian teenager.


Where Are They Now? is a monthly series that seeks out former newsmakers from Pictou County to find out what they’ve been doing since they first made headlines. If there’s someone you would like to find out about, please submit their name to Sueann Musick at Carol Dunn is a freelance writer, and former newspaper reporter and editor, who lives in New Glasgow.

Organizations: Wish Foundation, Pictou Academy, NHL Pittsburgh Penguins Disney World IWK Hospital

Geographic location: New Glasgow, Florida, Halifax Nova Scotian Pictou County

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