JUPITER, Fla. -- There were lots of big smiles and happy faces after the Ontario Blue Jays clipped the Royals Baseball Club, 4-1, in the first round of the WWBA World Championship on Thursday, but two of the happiest Canadians had to be Cam Mattice and Chris Branciere.
Mattice is a cancer survivor who beat Hodgkin's Lymphoma in 2005, and Branciere had an epileptic seizure that was so severe last January that his heart rate flat-lined in the hospital for an entire minute. In other words, his heart did not beat for 60 seconds.
Both young men cherish life, and both of them truly enjoyed Thursday's victory. "It was great. Nothing better," said Mattice.
Mattice was playing baseball in 2005 when he realized something was wrong. "I was out practicing and I started noticing that I was having trouble breathing, and I thought something was up," he said.
Mattice was right. His doctor gave him some medicine and told him to take it easy for a week, but it didn't help. He was throwing up and not feeling well at all. "That was when I found out I had cancer. And I thought that was it for me," he said. "I thought my life was completely over."
Mattice read about his cancer and did research. He learned that NHL star Mario Lemieux had the same cancer and beat it, which eased his mind a little. His mother sent Lemieux an e-mail, and the hockey star responded with an encouraging note to Mattice. That helped.
"That's when I knew it was beatable," he said.
Mattice underwent chemotherapy for five months, then had radiation treatments. His hair fell out, but he stuck with it. He credits his family and friends for pulling him through. "That's what kept me going," he said.
He's cancer-free. "Coming up on four years now," he said, but there's more to his story. During a tournament in Florida last year, his right arm felt tight and unusual. He thought it might be general fatigue, but it wasn't. "I knew something was wrong. I felt a bump under my arm," he related.
It turned out to be a serious blood clot. He was put on blood thinners for six months, and a doctor told him his days as an athlete could be over. "I felt I wouldn't play baseball again," he said. "I thought that was the end of my career, right there."
Mattice went to see a doctor in Texas, for a second opinion. This doctor told him he could play, with blood thinners, which was great news. The clot subsided and he's not on blood thinners anymore. There's still a "bit" of a clot, he said, but it's not believed to be dangerous. "I just have to be careful," he said.
Mattice, 17, wears a special sleeve on his right arm, which helps control swelling. If there is swelling, he'll take an aspirin and reduce his physical activity. But he normally feels fine and is glad to be playing baseball again. He played center field and scored two runs in Ontario's 4-1 victory on Thursday.
Branciere, 18, did not play in the 4-1 victory. He's a pitcher, and he pitched earlier in the day during a scrimmage against another team from Canada. But he, too, was thrilled with the triumph over the Royals Baseball Club, especially after all he's been through with epilepsy. He's scheduled to have a pacemaker installed in November to help control his condition, and his doctor have him permission to play in the WWBA World Championship before having it done.
"The last few years have been a roller coaster," he said. "I got diagnosed with epilepsy back in the end of 2007. I had to get put on meds for that and go through all the tests and everything. And I had a problem with the meds I was on. They weren't working, and they switched me over (to different meds).
"I've missed four months of school now, between grade 10 and 12," Branciere said. "Last year, I almost ... I actually flat-lined for a minute in the hospital back in January. I had five seizures in 20 hours." He said doctors weren't sure what to do after he had a massive seizure, pumping his chest for about a minute before using electric paddles to get the heart started again.
"It was at the time," he remarked. "Over time, I've managed to deal with it and just accept things the way they are. I've had to learn to go with the flow."
His new medications seem to be working. "There haven't been any problems since back in January, so that's been good," he said.
When most people have a seizure, their heart slows down, he said. But when Branciere has a seizure, his heart shuts down. That's why he's going to get a pacemaker.
"My heart, instead of slowing down, it stops altogether, anywhere from 20 seconds to a minute," he said. "So that's why they're going to put in the pacemaker, to make sure my heart starts back up. So as soon as I get that done, they said everything should be fine."
Mattice battled cancer, and won. Branciere has battled seizures, including a massive one that almost took his life, and he's back, too. They're both winners, and it had nothing to do with Thursday's game.