Amber and T.J. Brodie met in grade school in Dresden, Ont. It wasn’t until they were in their early 20s that they began to date after randomly bumping into each other one summer.
They have been married a half-dozen years now but were already a couple in 2016 when Amber learned she had multiple sclerosis, an incurable disease that affects one’s central-nervous system. She had experienced symptoms for two years – vision problems and numbness below the waist – before she received an official diagnosis.
T.J. was on the road with the Calgary Flames when she called to let him know.
“It was tough trying to be there for her and to help her when you are not physically in the same place,” Brodie, who has played in the NHL for 13 seasons, the past three with the Maple Leafs, said Wednesday during a video call with his wife. “We just took it day by day and tried to do what was within our control and could give ourselves the chance to have the best day tomorrow.”
The Brodies are ambassadors for the A&W Burgers to Beat MS campaign, which raises awareness and funds to help other people with the disease. On Thursday, $2 from every Teen Burger that the restaurant chain sells across Canada will be donated to the cause.
“A&W reached out to us,” T.J. Brodie said. “They had heard about Amber’s story and it certainly made sense for us. It is a good way to raise money for research and also to get the word out about MS. I don’t think a lot of people really know what it entails. I know we didn’t before she was diagnosed.”
About 12 Canadians are diagnosed with MS every day, and roughly 90,000 are living with the potentially disabling illness. Amber has undergone treatment and is currently in remission.
“It was definitely difficult but we took the negative and turned it into a positive,” Amber said. “It sounds clichéd but I feel like when something hard happens that puts life into perspective and it definitely brought us down to earth. We live life a little bit differently since my diagnosis – we are more health conscious and eat better – so those lifestyle choices have been a blessing in that way.”
The NHL defenceman proposed two years after Amber learned she was ill. He is the quiet one in their relationship while Amber is more outgoing.
“We complement each other,” T.J. said.
On Thursday he and his wife will make an appearance at a Toronto-area A&W. He has spent the time off this summer away from the rink with Amber, their five-year-old daughter Severn and two-year-old son Church. He will be 33 when the season begins this fall. Amber is 34.
Early on, when she began to have vision problems, an ophthalmologist told Amber that it sometimes is the first sign of multiple sclerosis in a woman of her age.
“We thought that was crazy, and that it couldn’t be true,” she said.
Later, it was confirmed.
“We had time to sort of think about it because doctors seemed pretty certain what it was,” T.J. said. “We sort of had ourselves prepared for it. You are always hoping they got it wrong somehow but when they tell you for sure it is not ideal.”
When they were approached by A&W, T.J. let Amber decide if she wanted to participate.
“I was good with anything she decided,” he said. “Ultimately it was her story to tell. I think it is good to let other people know they are not going through something alone and that there are other people in the same boat.”