After a 2-1 win over St. Bernard’s on Sept. 20, Lowell Catholic coach Ken Hurtubise was at home when he received a call from the mother of one of his players.
In that afternoon’s game, Hurtubise didn’t notice anything wrong with senior midfielder Stephen Janeczko.
“Stephen started as a midfielder and played a good chunk of the game,” Hurtubise said. “There were no signs that anything was wrong. He had a good game that day.”
But something was wrong. Stephen’s mother, Joanne, called Hurtubise at around 11 p.m. delivering a piece of news that shocked everyone.
After the game, Stephen, then 17, had suffered a stroke while at work with his mother.
“Just thinking about it makes me emotional,’’ Hurtubise said. “It is the worst call you can imagine.
“These guys have ultimately become like your own kids, so the first thing you think about is the player. You’re trying to rack your brain about anything you can give the parents or doctors, any information to help.”
Joanne Janeczko was with her son that Friday when she heard someone call out, “Mom.’’
“He was at work with me, and he went to fill up some of the coolers,’’ said Joanne. “When I turned around, he was in the corner. He said something was wrong and he was holding his head.
“The next thing I know, he had just lost consciousness.”
After being taken to a local hospital, Stephen was airlifted to Tufts Medical Center in Boston. His father, Tom, went along in the helicopter.
Stephen didn’t regain consciousness until “late Sunday night or early Monday morning,” according to Tom Janeczko.
By Monday, the team had found out about Stephen’s condition. Hurtubise sent an e-mail to the team after Joanne had called to see if anyone had seen Stephen acting differently or noticed anything that could have played a role in him having a stroke.
“During that next day and the next few days, I would update the team via e-mail as [Tom and Joanne Janeczko] gave me updates,” Hurtubise said. “They did all sorts of testing and MRIs.”
But even a month later, doctors haven’t figured out why Stephen collapsed on that Friday afternoon.
“They told us at Tufts that he was going to have brain damage, and they’re still not sure why it happened,” said Joanne.
At the start of practice on the following Monday, Hurtubise briefed the team.
“We came to the center of the field, took a knee, and said a prayer for him,’’ said the coach. “We decided then and there we would dedicate the rest of our season to his recovery.”
A week after the stroke, Stephen was moved to Spaulding Rehab in Boston.
That Sunday, Lowell Catholic defeated Cristo Rey High in Boston, and on its way back to Lowell the team stopped to see Stephen for the first time since his stroke.
“They felt good to see their buddy,” said Hurtubise. “The team brought down a soccer ball that the whole team signed and presented to him.”
It was an emotional moment for Stephen.
“He cried,” said Joanne. “He was in a wheelchair and he couldn’t hold his head up. But he could talk.”
After a visit that lasted around a half-hour, Stephen said goodbye to his teammates for the time being.
Depending on the speed at which he recovered, Hurtubise was hopeful that Stephen, who turned 18 on Saturday, would be able to be with the team on the sideline for Lowell Catholic’s senior day Oct. 28.
“When I talked to his mom during that visit and a couple of times since that point in time, the hope was to get Stephen out of the hospital by the end of [October],” said Hurtubise. “We were just hoping to be able to see him then.”
As he went through his recovery, Stephen’s physical therapists tailored rehab exercises toward one of his interests — Premier League soccer.
“Stephen can name all of the English Premier League soccer teams,” said Tom Janeczko.
“What they did for his physical therapy to get him to walk, is his physical therapist went and got all of the [logos] for each [Premier League] team,” said Joanne.
“They had him doing a matching game with the EPL teams with him using his walker. They tried to gear his recovery toward what he likes.”
Last Thursday, 27 days after Stephen was airlifted to Tufts Medical Center, he was released from the hospital.
Lowell Catholic had a home game that afternoon against Cristo Rey. The Janeczkos brought Stephen to the game, without having told anyone on the team that their son was on his way.
As Stephen slowly made his way toward the field a half-hour before the game, his teammates continued to warm up until someone noticed someone in the distance walking in the direction of the field.
“All of a sudden, I look up and I see all of the guys running toward the corner of the field and one of the guys yells, ‘Stephen’s here!’ ” said Hurtubise.
“The team was mobbing him, it was just a great experience. The whole team kept asking me to put him in the game as I made coaching changes.”
Lowell Catholic defeated Cristo Rey, 3-0, but the result wasn’t the biggest win for the team. They finally had their senior midfielder with them again.
“He’s been coming around, and the kid is really a fighter — one of the hardest-working soccer players I’ve ever coached,” said Hurtubise.
“If anyone can bounce back strong from this, it will be Stephen.”
“He was happy,” said Tom. “We didn’t tell anybody he was coming home on Thursday.”
Now, Stephen is already thinking about when he can return to school. The senior has a 4.2 GPA, and enjoys his French and statistics classes.
“His biggest concern now is when can he go to soccer and when he can go to school,” said Tom.