West Kelowna  

A true Warrior's warrior

Life isn't fair – just ask Brendan Ritchie.

Brendan is your typical seven-year-old. A Grade 2 student at Rose Valley Elementary, he likes to run around with his friends, and play the sport he loves – hockey.

Problem is, he can't. Brendan was diagnosed almost three years ago with idiopathic pulmonary hypertension, a disease that severely limits his ability for physical exertion.

"The symptoms are more like blue lips, fainting ... not being able to breathe," says his mother, Kristine.

"It is basically diagnosed as one-in-a-million, but, for a child to get it is even more rare. It's mainly diagnosed in women ages 21 to 40."

There is no cure.

Brendan's plight caught the attention of West Kelowna Warriors defenceman Rylan Yaremko.

"His grandparents know my grandparents. I went to Yuma, Ariz., to see my grandparents, and I was talking with Brendan's grandparents. They talked about him that he loved the game of hockey," recalled Yaremko.

"So I thought I would bring him out and show him a good time."

A friendship started right away.

"I think the first time we saw each other we were grinning from ear to ear," said Yaremko.

"It's great," said Brendan of the friendship. "It lifts my spirits."

"Just having him around all the time brings a big smile to my face," added Yaremko. "It makes you realize the game of life is bigger than the game of hockey."

And, therein lies the importance of the relationship.

"It's pretty important to him, and it is probably more important to me because if it wasn't for Rylan, (Brendan) wouldn't get the opportunity because he can't play organized team sports because it puts too much pressure on his heart," said Kristine. "It means a lot to us."

Brendan gave Yaremko an IPH wristband that he wears all the time. He made sure the rest of the team got them, too.

Brendan was thrilled when he saw the wristbands above each player's gear in the dressing room.

"They (team) make sure Brendan feels at home when he's in the room."

Warriors coach Rylan Ferster encourages his players to interact within the community, but said the friendship between the defenceman and young child is a special one.

"We're really lucky to have him around. What it does is it puts things into perspective for you. It really does," said Ferster.

"When you see him around and his eyes light up and how good our kids are with him, it's fun. You realize maybe today isn't as bad as you thought it was."

The special friendship came to light when Brendan's mother wrote to Castanet, thanking Yaremko and the Warriors for their support and kindness toward her son.

"The prognosis ... there is no cure," said Kristine. "You basically progress until you need a lung transplant. That is one of the hardest transplants to do."

Good things happen to good people, added Ferster.

"We're certainly pulling for him."


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