A 15-year-old roller-hockey player from Dennis Township collapsed at an early-season practice, apparently of a medical condition, and died on his way to the hospital, authorities and his family said Saturday.
Michael Fisher, a sophomore at Cape May County Technical School, “passed out” in a Friday evening scrimmage at the hockey rink in a busy sports complex on Dennisville Road in his home township, his stepfather, Dan Nees, said in an interview.
State Police and the Belleplain Emergency Corp. — which is almost right next door to the township-owned sports complex — got the call about an “unresponsive” teenager collapsing at 6:21 p.m. Friday, State Police Sgt. Stephen Jones said. A Belleplain ambulance was taking the boy to the hospital when he died, Jones said.
“There was a history of medical issues that may have contributed to his death,” the police spokesman said, adding that an autopsy is planned but hadn’t been performed yet. The boy’s stepfather said the family has been told the autopsy is scheduled for Monday.
“He had a congenital heart murmur,” Nees said, but the boy had seen a cardiologist as recently as three weeks ago and was told his activities could be “unrestricted.”
Still, Fisher always had trouble running — “He couldn’t breathe, he couldn’t run at all,” Nees continued, and a lung specialist diagnosed him with exercise-induced asthma and prescribed an inhaler. Fisher used it regularly and had used it before he started practice on an unusually warm September evening, witnesses told the family.
His stepfather said Fisher always loved hockey — he had started playing in the township’s league by the time he was 7 or 8 years old — because skating had a way of setting him free.
“He could skate all day and it never winded him,” Nees said. “So Mike always looked forward to hockey season, and he thought they were going to have a really good team this year. ... He had been playing with these kids almost his whole life.”
Michael’s mother, Justina, is “handling it. She’s as good as can be expected,” her husband said. The two have been married for seven years and started dating two years before that, so Nees has been part of Mike’s life for nine years. “She’s had her ups and downs all day, but she has a huge family and a lot of support.”
Dan and Justina Nees also have a 6-year-old son, Mason, who is “doing well. He’s still young enough that it hasn’t sunk in” that his brother died, his father says.
Aside from hockey, Michael Fisher also liked music — he had everything from classical to country to rock to heavy metal on his iPod, Nees says — and school.
“He was an A and B student all his life,” and had just started in the allied-medical program at Cape May Tech, his stepfather adds.
“Last week he was telling us he wanted be a doctor. He was loving his classes” and saying he wanted to go on to medical school, said Nees. “But then he came home and said, ‘You know what? I like the idea of being a doctor, but it’s a lot of years of school and a lot of money,’” so his new career goal was to become a nurse-practitioner.
He also remembers a boy who made friends easily, and stuck up for them.
“And he’d play with his little brother the same as he’d play with older kids,” Nees says. “My wife has a friend whose kids are younger, a girl who’s a year and a half old, and Mike would sit on the floor and play with her.”
Fisher also enjoyed fishing and skateboarding, along with skating and hockey.
“He just loved the outdoors,” his stepfather says. “If he could do something outside, as opposed to sitting inside and watching TV, he’d always do it.”
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