Ryan MacKinnon's time at home over the holidays this year is different than times before.
He had been in hospital at the IWK for months after he was struck by a motorcycle in August. He's gone through multiple surgeries, had his leg amputated and still has more recovery ahead.
But for him, and his mother Dianne, there is hope to be found in what many would consider a tragedy.
"It's just crazy how a small community can have such an impact on someone's life," Ryan told Mainstreet P.E.I.'s Angela Walker.
'Just a hero'
Getting back home for the holidays wasn't easy for Ryan and his family.
"It's a struggle. It's hard seeing him having to overcome so many obstacles," Dianne said.
"But he's just surprised us at every corner and he pushes forward every day, gives it his all and he's just a hero."
Family also played a big role in supporting the family, Dianne said.
"They met us in Summerside and followed us to Halifax and pretty much set up camp outside the hospital on the grounds for the first few weeks," she said.
Then came messages and phone calls of support from family, friends and members of the hockey community, of which Ryan is a part.
"The community has been incredibly supportive. We're just very blessed."
Ryan also said a stranger's advice resonated with him.
"He just told me to keep my head up and that I'm going to be all right in the long run and gave me a lot of hope for my future. And knowing that everything will be alright," he said.
"You can get really down on yourself in the situation I was in. You always really want to keep that hope in the back of your head and pray for another better day."
After months in Halifax, Ryan and Dianne were happy to be headed back home for the holidays, and news of their arrival spread quickly.
Dianne's brother and his family met them with noisemakers in Borden when they crossed the bridge.
On the way to O'Leary, there were signs of support and people out on their lawns waving as they passed.
"It was pretty overwhelming," Dianne said of the whole experience.
"Then, of course, you come into O'Leary and fire trucks and the ambulances, you know, just the parade that they gave for us here, everybody along the roadside honking with their signs and, you know, just cheering us on. It was very humbling."
They returned after the Atlantic bubble was suspended, so had to self-isolate. Dianne said because of this, the parade was all done from vehicles.
Ryan said seeing the community's support also alleviated doubts he had about how much people cared about him.
"My mom and dad always said to me in the hospital, that everybody's praying for you at home. It was just kind of hard to believe that everybody would do that," he said.
"And when I got home, it really just hit me that everyone really was praying and watching out for me and having my back kind of thing."
What lies ahead
Ryan's recovery isn't over yet.
Dianne said they will head back to the IWK on Jan. 4 so Ryan can get fitted for a prosthetic leg.
There will be rehab, which she said will keep them there for four to six weeks.
"And then it's just getting on to living our new normal life, figuring that out."
Ryan said one of his goals for the new year is to try to help people — like the stranger he spoke to helped him.
"Just to make a difference in other people's lives, like mine," he said.
"Tell them that everything's going be all right and just keep pushing through it."
Dianne echoed the sentiment.
"Just hoping to reach out. And if anybody is ever in a situation that's similar to ours, that we can help them out a little bit."
One other goal Ryan has for his future is something he is determined to make happen.
"I really want to try and get back on the ice," he said.
"One way or the other I'm going to get there."
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