Back in
the Game

After seriously burning 15 per cent of his body, Shintaro is rebuilding his life with Sunnybrook —and his mom — by his side.

Shintaro Tsukamoto has come a long way in two years.

When he was airlifted to Sunnybrook with serious burns to 15 per cent of his body, it was not clear whether he would be able to use his hands again.

Today, the 22-year-old university student puts those same hands to good use as the newest recruit of the Ottawa Outlaws, the city's first professional Ultimate Frisbee team.

"Thinking back to when I first learned the extent of my injuries, I am not sure I would have believed I'd make the roster as a professional player," says Shintaro.

Late one night in July 2017, Shintaro realized the house where he rented an apartment was on fire. He fought his way out, but not before sustaining second-degree burns and lung damage.

At the Ross Tilley Burn Centre, the only program in the province that accepts all patients with serious burns, Shintaro was placed in a coma for three weeks while the team grafted skin from his legs to arms, hands and neck.

Beside him every step of the way were his mother Peggy, father Katsuhiro and younger sister Sakura.

Shintaro soon moved to Sunnybrook's St. John's Rehab, home to Ontario's only burn rehabilitation program, with customized services that focus on restoring body and mind.

Beside him every step of the way were his mother Peggy, father Katsuhiro and younger sister Sakura.

"Throughout my recovery everyone kept me focused on the bigger picture, I'm thankful for my care at Sunnybrook, and even more so to be doing what I love again."

Shintaro Tsukamoto

Initially, the improvements seemed incremental as Shintaro relearned to walk and hold a toothbrush, first as an inpatient with daily physiotherapy and later with thrice-weekly sessions over a three-month period. Everything changed the moment he played his first game.

"I was still working on hand strength and couldn't yet catch or throw a Frisbee, so I mostly ran around," says Shintaro. "But I'll never forget the freedom I felt — or the realization of how far I'd come."

Shintaro's story speaks to the strength of his will and the power of family. His mother accompanied him to each appointment, so much so that he credits much of his recovery to her.

Now Peggy is paying it forward with monthly donations directed to the Ross Tilley Burn Centre, where researchers are pioneering personalized treatments for major burn injuries.

"They saved my son's life," says Peggy. "How do you thank someone for that? I can't give my time, but I can give money, and I try to give as much as I can."

Peggy's donations are making an impact. Sunnybrook researchers are at a pivotal moment in their efforts to invent a skin substitute to avoid painful grafts, having first discovered a new source of stem cells from the discarded burned skin of patients.

Shintaro has returned to Carleton University to study human rights and social justice. In April 2019, he achieved his biggest goal: landing a coveted spot on Ottawa's professional Ultimate Frisbee team.

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