MISSOULA – A year ago, Jason and Liz DiMatteo stepped up, and became owners of the Bruins when Missoula needed a new junior hockey team. Now the hockey community is stepping up for the family when they need it most.
Jason felt pain throughout his whole body one night in March. For years, stones have developed in his bile ducts. And he traveled to Spokane for a familiar treatment.
“It was just a simple procedure,” DiMatteo explained. “You go down one day. They let you out the same day.”
DiMatteo returned home afterward, but the pain returned, as well. They rushed back to Spokane, and his condition quickly worsened.
Without a diagnosis, Liz DiMatteo refused to watch her 42-year-old husband, the father of their five young sons, slip away. So she got on the phone, calling anyone who could help.
“She kept me alive,” said Jason, “beause that doctor would have never done the scan on me if she didn’t call Missoula and make them do a scan and find the leak.”
Liz made contact with a Missoula doctor they had seen before, who contacted the Spokane hospital and recommended an MRI.
“And if she wasn’t there to do that, I would have died,” Jason said.
DiMatteo’s abdomen was filling with fluid, his kidneys and other organs started to shut down, and he had a fever of 105 degrees. Doctors put him in a medically induced coma to ease his pain and aid in treatment. He didn’t wake up for 19 days.
“They didn’t even know what to do,” he said. “They just got in there and started trying things. My wife said there was one surgeon in Spokane that just didn’t give up.”
After finally showing signs of improvement, DiMatteo transferred to St. Patrick Hospital in Missoula, and eventually came home. But he still has a large open wound, multiple tubes to drain infection, and is struggling to put on weight.
“The doctors finally told us last week, ‘We need to send you somewhere. There’s nothing else we can do to make you better. We can keep you where you’re at,’” DiMatteo said. “But I don’t want to be like this the rest of my life. I want to work and play with my kids.”
Jason will travel to Denver for more treatment this weekend, which means more hospital bills and strain on the family.
But one amazing beacon of light has shone on the DiMatteo family through this whole ordeal. A www.gofundme.com page was set up by a friend, and has raised nearly $25,000 to help. Jason’s bosses at Bretz RV and Marine have agreed to match whatever the page raises, and have guaranteed his finance job whenever he can come back.
And the DiMatteos, who moved from Great Falls just three years ago, realized that most of the donations have come from members of Missoula’s tight-knit hockey community.
“It’s incredible, the hockey out here,” said Jason. “Because there is people I’ve met that I don’t really know, and they donated. You know, even 50 bucks, that’s a lot of money for some people. People donate $1,000. That’s a lot of money. So just grateful.”
During the emotional interview with MTN Sports, Jason lit up when asked about his Missoula Bruins. He praised the recruiting work head coach Marcus Baxter is doing, and discussed his plans to make the team even more active in the community next season.