By Emily Stonehouse
Many readers would remember Anthony Micallef; a local graduate of Archie Stouffer and Haliburton Highlands Secondary School, and a vibrant personality through and through. Brianne Pockett, an EA at Hal High while Micallef attended, recalled that he was a class clown in the best way possible. “We developed a fast friendship based on comedies and sarcasm,” she laughed. “We would go toe to toe saying lines from movies. Anchorman was usually our go to. He also loved a good joke or prank.”
After graduating from Hal High, Micallef went on to attend Carleton University in Ottawa, where he received his undergraduate degree as well as his master’s in information technology. “We kept in touch during his Carleton days,” said Pockett, “I was so proud of him! He accomplished so much.” Micallef became an accessibility consultant, and started his own business designing aides for physically handicapped individuals.
Micallef had a vibrant zest for life, and charmed everyone he met on his journeys. Yet through it all, he had a rare neuromuscular disability called Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA), which impacted the voluntary muscles used for activities such as walking, head and neck control, and swallowing.
Despite being told by many health professionals that he would not survive beyond childhood due to the uncommon disease, Micallef thrived. He made the most out of the time he had, and his efforts impacted countless lives.
Micallef tragically died last summer; a loss that impacted the many communities he was a part of.
One individual who was particularly impacted by the sudden loss, was Matt Duchene.
Duchene is a Haliburton local who currently plays for the Nashville Predators in the NHL. Despite spending years traveling for hockey, he always remained tied to his hometown. He met Micallef when the two boys were “very young” at Sunday school, and they remained close as they grew up.
“I heard the awful news about Anthony this summer when it happened and I couldn’t shake it for about a week, it really, really shook me like it did to so many others,” Duchene told the Times.
Since last summer, Duchene has spent time thinking about what he could do to honour the life of his friend. On March 7, he launched a campaign to raise money for Cure SMA Canada; an organization dedicated to supporting those navigating SMA. “I felt with my platform I would be able to really shine some light on what an amazing person he was and do something big on a charitable level in his name,” he shared.
Duchene took to his social media channels to reach out to those interested in helping out. He said that while he has raised a significant amount of money through his “Hockey Tonk Suite” inside the Bridgestone Arena where he plays, he wanted to incorporate a tangible element into the fundraising initiative.
With this idea in mind, he released a limited edition hat for those who want to be a part of the cause. “I’m really hoping we sell out of the hats and have to re-order; that would be incredible,” Duchene said. “I’m really excited to share the amount we’ll be donating in his name.”
While it’s easy to get caught up in the whirlwind of fundraising, Duchene shared that he wants to remember the person Micallef was. “Anthony was not dealt a very good hand in life with his disability but he never let that deter him from what he wanted to do or from being happy,” he told the Times. “He was incredibly bright, kind, hardworking and he had a great sense of humour.”
“It was great to see Matt’s Instagram post on fundraising for SMA,” said Pokett, “Matt is always so giving and compassionate and he never forgets Haliburton. He has a huge heart and shows it through his contributions to many fundraisers.”
Duchene hopes the campaign is able to run throughout the duration of the regular NHL season, to raise as much money as possible in Micallef’s name to benefit Cure SMA Canada.
For information about how to support the cause, visit https://Duchene.givesmart.com or follow @matt9duchene on Instagram.