Early loss still sticks with Mancari Photo: Ross Dettman/Chicago Wolves

Early loss still sticks with Mancari

Chicago Wolves right wing Mark Mancari was just a teenager when he left home in London, Ontario to travel to Ottawa and play for the Ontario Hockey League’s Ottawa 67’s. Despite the six hours separating his old and new residences, Mancari stayed close to his childhood best friend, Christian Kaiser. Which only made the phone call he got one afternoon all the more difficult to take.

“When I left to go play juniors, Christian, who had been my best friend since before I can remember, was back home and going through some medical issues and it turned out that things weren’t really getting any better,” Mancari said. “They were getting bad pretty fast, and he ended up passing away from Sudden Unexpected Death because of epilepsy. We were all told he had a seizure even though no one was there to physically see what happened to him. His brother came home and that was what everything came back as. He and I were next-door neighbors since I was born. I moved in as a baby and he was already 2.”

Mancari, who was 18 at the time, was gutted by the loss of Kaiser, who had been suffering from seizures and blackouts for some time before he passed. At the time epilepsy was even more difficult to understand than it is now and, despite trying a number of medications, doctors were never able to get Kaiser’s diagnosis under control.

“It was heartbreaking,” Mancari said. “One minute, you’re 18 years old, just moving away from home. You’re always online chatting or on your phone texting and you’re planning visits and can’t wait to go home for Christmas; not just for your family, but you can’t wait to see your friends again too. It broke me. He was my best friend and he was my brother, pretty much. We had done everything together from elementary school, from playing hockey on weekends to having sleepovers.

A decade later, Mancari still feels Kaiser’s absence deeply, and speaks out about his death in hopes of helping others struggling with an epilepsy diagnosis. In support of Epilepsy Awareness Month, the Wolves are auctioning off a lunch with Mancari and general manager Wendell Young. While nothing can bring back the friend he lost, Mancari is grateful to still be close to his family. Now they’ve become a part of his.

“I’m still close to Christian’s family. His mom and dad still live next to my mom and dad,” Mancari said. “He has a younger brother I still keep in touch with. Every year around his birthday if we’re home, I go to his parents’ place. Knowing how hard it was for his friends to deal with, I can’t imagine how hard it was for his parents. They like to keep in touch and have us over. His parents are part of my parents’ everyday life. That’s how it has been, and how it will always be.”

To donate to the Epilepsy Foundation of Greater Chicago, please visit their website: http://www.epilepsychicago.org/