By Evan Wheaton
As the white Volkswagen Jetta turned out of the parking lot for the final time, reality had sunk in.
Ed Harasiemowicz was gone.
After attending classes for the first few weeks of the Spring 2019 semester, Harasiemowicz had to leave Springfield College and head home to Rotterdam, N.Y. for the remainder of the year.
“It sucked,” said his roommate Nick Lopez. “That’s your best friend right there, the first guy I met on campus and I had a really good connection with him.”
It wasn’t Harasiemowicz’s choice to leave.
His hand was forced after receiving his 10th concussion during an ill-fated hockey game. After sustaining the injury, he knew that things weren’t okay. It was time to hang up the skates for good.
“It was tough to see him go,” said teammate Jackson Maxwell. “One of our coaches had to stop playing hockey because of concussions and one of my former roommates and teammates had to stop playing because of head issues. It’s never easy.”
Skating at the age of two and playing competitive hockey the majority of his life, it’s been a challenge for Harasiemowicz to retire from his favorite sport. Although he’s not working out with his teammates and scoring goals in big moments, he still holds on to everything else hockey has given him.
“Every team I’ve ever been on, it’s been amazing,” Harasiemowicz said. “Maybe a rocky start if you don’t know the people and the chemistry yet but I’ve met some life-long friends with hockey and it’s really something special.”
Friendships and everlasting human relationships aren’t the only things Harasiemowicz has developed over the course of his playing years. He’s gained valuable skills and qualities that he’ll carry with him for the rest of his life.
“I try to be a leader; I try to lift people up,” Harasiemowicz said. “If a teammate makes a bad play or has a bad game, I lift him up and tell him to shake it off.”
Because his head injuries have reached double digits at this point, Harasiemowicz has an extensive history of working through it.
“My multiple concussions have always changed who I was,” Harasiemowicz said. “Mood swings, that type of stuff. It’s always huge to try and push through that.”
On top of the latest head injury, there is a more serious agent at work within Harasiemowicz’s brain. He has a cognitive processing disorder that precludes normal learning as well as a cardiovascular issue located in his left temporal lobe. He currently attends regular appointments for neuropsychological tests and memorization exercises.
“Right now I’m trying to figure out what’s going on inside my brain, especially with my vascular issue,” Harasiemowicz said. “It’s either a DVA or an AVM. A DVA is benign and won’t do anything but an AVM can rupture and I can have a stroke and have a 10-15 percent chance of dying.”
“After that, whatever the diagnosis is, I’m working on cognitive function, processing different things, and making myself a little bit better in a classroom-type setting.”
Although he’s attempting to work on processing classroom scenarios, a return to Springfield College is not guaranteed.
“It seems like he’s at a crossroads with school because I think he’s always been a little adverse when it comes to it,” Lopez said. “It hasn’t always been his thing and he has his paramedic work going for him.”
With a background of EMT work, Harasiemowicz is weighing the options of pursuing a paramedic career while balancing firefighting like his father. This path would replace his pursuit of a healthcare management degree. The two are self described “workaholics” and are no strangers to packed schedules.
“I just love working so much that I just feel like a slug right now not doing anything,” Harasiemowicz said. “I wish I could be in school because at least you have a schedule; you have more friends there. I only have a handful of friends here.”
Working at such a pace with mounting hours of the week means he’s making a lot of money, but that’s not the only reason Harasiemowicz likes to put a large load on his shoulders.
“I try to preoccupy myself with everything to get away from my problems,” Harasiemowicz said. “Working, hanging out with friends, because we all have problems and this is how we deal with it and that’s how I deal with it, by working. It gives me an escape route so I can focus on helping other people, especially in my line of work.”
Due to his line of work, Harasiemowicz has still had to deal with hard and sometimes traumatic experiences.
“Last year I had a 12-year-old girl that went into cardiac arrest,” Harasiemowicz said. “I was just doing CPR the whole time because I could just switch hands in and out. Unfortunately, the child didn’t make it and ended up dying. That was tough for me.”
Despite being medically cleared to return to work, Harasiemowicz’s boss still hasn’t allowed him to come back yet. It’s been mentally agonizing for someone that desires the structure and distraction.
“I’m just trying to take it day by day,” Harasiemowicz said. “It’s really hard to think positive, especially now that my boss won’t let me work. It’s taxing not knowing what’s going on in my brain. It’s always in the back of my mind. If it’s benign, awesome. But if it’s not… you just have that thought. It’s not something a 20-year-old wants to be thinking about.”
Although he desperately misses the way his life was a couple months ago, Harasiemowicz is doing his best to remain positive. With a lot more than just dire health concerns on his mind, Harasiemowicz is embarking on a mental journey.
“It sounds so cheesy but everything happens for a reason,” Harasiemowicz said. “If something bad happens you just have to try to think positive in that situation no matter what it is.”
As his car passed the arch, his friends at Springfield College stood to see him off.
Photo courtesy Joe Lupi