In the wake of Rich Peverley‘s collapse last month, you would think that teams would want to be careful with the health of their players. This is especially true with those teams who’ll be in the playoffs starting next week. Holding a player back would be a cautious thing to do, right?
That’s not what the Pittsburgh Penguins think. Kris Letang suffered a stroke at the end of January, and he’s going to be playing tonight. On the surface, that would be a real miracle, but I had my doubts from the moment they announced it. See, the stroke was caused by a hole in his heart, a defect that’s always been there. It’s kind of like Peverley’s defect that caused his atrial fibrillation. Unlike Pevs undergoing ablation, the hole in Letang’s heart hasn’t been fixed (and Letang has said he won’t get it fixed).
Then I saw the following passage in this article on the NHL’s website (bolding is mine):
“Hockey did not cause the stroke,” [Penguins GM Ray] Shero said. “Resting is not going to make him better. … To return to play ice hockey, he’s at no further risk to suffer a stroke than he would be going to the grocery store.”
Shero said Letang still experiences dizziness and headaches. He said Letang has dealt with those symptoms throughout his career and called it “the new normal,” which Letang repeated.
“That’s the new normal and I feel 100 percent in it, and that’s why I’ve been skating,” Letang said. “I have the green light, but I’ve been skating a lot just to see if it would happen on the ice but it did not.”
Dizziness and headaches are normal now, and he’s had them for years? NOT COOL. Those are signs of post-concussion syndrome. And for the Pens’ medical team to accept his explanation is putting Letang’s life and career in danger. After the way they handled Sidney Crosby’s concussions, I wouldn’t trust them with a Cabbage Patch Kid. He should’ve been shut down for the season, allowed to recover from the stroke, then had surgery (it’s an invasive procedure now) to repair the hole so he could take the summer to recover from that.
For Shero to be so casual about Letang’s condition is negligent. According to the National Stroke Association, that hole in Letang’s heart is not going to go away, and medication will only keep clots from forming. He’s still at risk for stroke, no matter where he is in his recovery. Also, from the way he described it, Letang had a transient ischemic attack (TIA) or mini stroke. You can’t take those lightly because they put you at greater risk for a major, potentially debiliating stroke.
Shame on the Pens medical staff – they’re connected with UPMC, one of the top medical centers in the country – because this is a terrible way to handle the health of a young man who has a wife and child. I hope Letang does all right, but he and the Penguins need to take this situation, pardon the pun, more to heart.