Once the doctors were on his case, the diagnosis came quickly for Braiden Epp.
Within a month of checking himself into the emergency department at Nanaimo Regional General Hospital, the 24-year-old former Prince George Spruce King found out what was causing him to lose his balance and making his arms and legs go numb.
He was told he has multiple sclerosis.
Epp had noticed he was walking clumsily and stumbling to keep his balance at times. Having made the switch from hockey player to hockey official, Epp was in Port Alberni reffing a BCHL game in the Island Division hub when he really started thinking something was wrong with him. He stepped onto the ice and his feet felt strange as he tried to dig his blades into the ice. With every stride, he felt a delay before his feet moved. He got through the game but not without considerable effort just to keep from falling and he thought maybe he’d pinched a nerve in his back.
Ten days later, he was back in Port Alberni for a Sunday evening game, when his condition worsened.
“I still had the back pain, so I was kind of worried I wouldn’t be able to skate and I told the guys I didn’t know what was going to happen and I stepped out on the ice and couldn’t skate at all,” said Epp. “I was falling down and so out of sorts and I only made it five minutes to the first TV timeout. I told the guys I’m going to get hurt, somebody was going to hit me, and it’s just not safe for me to be out here. I couldn’t move my feet at all, basically just coasting and using the boards as a support, and I left that game.”
He called his parents in Prince George, Deanna and Rod Epp, and they told him to go to the Nanaimo walk-in clinic to get checked, but with COVID protocols in place there was a long line of patients ahead of him and Epp wasn’t able to see a doctor that day. He went back to work that week and felt fatigued every day. That Friday, while driving his truck, his arms and legs went numb and were tingling and he drove right away to the hospital for the first of a series of tests that revealed the reason he was struggling.
Epp played four full seasons in the B.C. Hockey League, three with the Spruce Kings before ending his junior eligibility in 2017 with the West Kelowna Warriors.
Epp found out he had MS on May 25 and it didn’t take long for him to get involved in an effort to help find a cure for the disease. Dylan Ellison, his friend from Shas Ti Kelly Road Secondary School in Prince George, put together a web page for Epp to take part in the virtual walk for MS on May 30. He was part of a seven-team contingent from the city that entered a national fundraising contest and Epp and his team won it. They raised more than $30,000 for MS research and the total will be doubled by matching funds from the MS Society of Canada.
“They want me to find what my triggers are and try to avoid the stresses in my life,” he said. “They’re still waiting for a few blood tests to come back before I get on the medication that helps keep that stuff at bay. They say I should be able to lead a healthy life, by what they see so far. That’s my plan, to stay active and keep living.
“I’m scared to try and skate again, because it was such a hard thing for me to lose that ability. I do want to continue reffing, so I’ll work hard in the rehab process to make that stuff work and I hope to keep playing recreational hockey, which is such a big part of my life. It may not be at the highest level I want to get to but if I can still skate I’ll be more than happy.”