Topeka Pilots fan, KC Saints coach battles hydrocephalus

Health Check

TOPEKA, Kan. (KSNT) – One Topekan’s battle with a brain condition has fueled his hockey passion and coaching style.

Jason Simonsen helped establish the Topeka Pilots hockey team.

He has hydrocephalus, which is caused by an excessive build-up of fluid in the brain, and he’s dealing with it on and off the ice. Simonsen is known as “Bucket,” pumping up the Topeka Pilots crowd during games, and he also coaches for the Kansas City Saints team.

When he was 14 years old, something strange started happening.

“I had dealt with tremors in my hands in North Dakota,” Simonsen said. “My parents decided to take me to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester.”

Doctors told him he had hydrocephalus. Because of his condition, Simonsen was forced to stop participating in contact sports when he was a teenager.

He had multiple surgeries so doctors could install a device called a shunt to drain fluid from his brain. The original device supported him for about 20 years, but 11 years ago Simonsen started feeling symptoms again.

“One day I was walking with my wife at a store and wasn’t feeling right,” Simonsen said. “I went to the doctor and found out my shunt had plugged again.”

Simonsen underwent more surgeries to replace the device, marking 11 total surgeries throughout his life. The adversity influences his coaching philosophy he leads with today.

“He has a philosophy of ‘all in’ during that final shift,” said Jerry Cooper, parent of a hockey player Simonsen has coached. “I think that is a carryover to his condition, where you have to have to give it your all now, because you don’t know what tomorrow will bring. And he brings that to the kids and coaches with that philosophy.”

Simonsen shared a message he brings to his players before each game.

“I try to remind them, that you never know when something is going to happen,” Simonsen said. “So play every game like it could be your last, because you never know.”

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