Injured but upbeat, teen returns home

Paralyzed during Jan. hockey game

By John M. Guilfoil
Globe Staff / May 6, 2010

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NORWOOD — The deafening roar of hundreds of teenagers and family members gave way to tears and then more applause from the moment Matt Brown’s MedFlight jet landed at Norwood Memorial Airport yesterday evening.

“Matty’’ — whose life only months ago took a dramatic, near-catastrophic turn when he was paralyzed while playing ice hockey — was home, where he belonged. The people who love him poured out, rushed the tarmac, and showed their feelings.

His father would later say that 16-year-old Matt was antsy throughout the flight home, because as much as people wanted to see him, he wanted to see them. Escorted by a half-dozen Norwood firefighters, Matt was rolled out of the plane on a stretcher and brought over to see everyone.

First stop: his little sister, Kelley, 14, who planted a big kiss on his cheek, and then to his mother, Sue, and then to his cousin, Juliana O’Neil, 7. The family dog, Snickers, looked on, too.

“I’m so excited to have my brother back with me,’’ said Kelley. “I’ve always looked up to my big brother, and he’s always been a great, upbeat, all-around amazing kid, especially through all this.’’

The sophomore hockey star broke his third and fourth cervical vertebrae on Jan. 23 during a game between Norwood and Weymouth high schools at Hingham’s Pilgrim Arena. He underwent surgery at Children’s Hospital in Boston and was later flown to the Shepherd Center, an Atlanta facility specializing in treating patients with spinal cord injuries.

As he made his way through the crowd, Matt looked up to first see his cousins, of which he has about 20, then his other family members, his classmates, teammates, coach, and teachers who held signs and homemade banners showing their support.

“I feel awesome,’’ Matt told the reporters, with a wide smile.

“It’s great to have him home,’’ said Michael Brown, Matt’s father, who accompanied him on the flight from Atlanta. “Matty was sky-high all day. It’s so great to be home.’’

Tyler Gover, 15, a freshman at Norwood High and one of Matt’s teammates, was among the many who came out yesterday.

“After this long break that we’ve had without seeing him, everything’s going to be good now. With him here, everyone’s so happy,’’ Gover said. “It’s been pretty tough, but you pray and everything. So when he’s back, we’ll just be one happy, strong community.’’

Gover and others arrived at the airport in their baseball uniforms. Matt would have also played baseball this year. Their caps have the No. 3, Matt’s hockey number, stitched on the side.

Matt lives less than a mile from the airport, and he returned to his house yesterday for the first time since the accident.

He made his first stop just down the road, at his grandmother’s house.

Leaving the airport, Matt was taken in a Norwood Fire Department ambulance under escort by a fire truck, two police motorcycles, and police and fire SUVs.

A few surprises waited for him at home.

The Brown family, with the help of local businesses, had renovated their house. They converted their garage and basement into a “hang out room’’ for Matt and his friends. They moved Matt’s bedroom from the second floor to the first, and they installed an elevator to help him get around.

The brand new bedroom is painted “Norwood Blue’’ — one of the school’s colors.

Early yesterday, family and friends placed signs and posters on the road from the airport to his home.

Melissa Maggio, 19, has known Matt all his life. She visited him in Atlanta.

“When we were there, he was so excited,’’ she said after tying down a bundle of balloons. “I wasn’t expecting him to be that upbeat — granted we gave him a Devil Dog and Sour Patch Kids — but he was very smiley and in a great mood.’’

Most of the renovations and the airplane rides were donated by Norwood-based businesses.

“It’s been overwhelming,’’ said Sue Brown, Matt’s mother, inside their home yesterday afternoon as she showed some of the changes and renovations. “But I can’t say I’m surprised. I grew up in Norwood, and we chose to raise our family in Norwood for a reason.’’

John M. Guilfoil can be reached at

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