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Chris Pronger: “I Almost Died on the Ice”

Image courtesy of Chris Pronger via Instagram

Chris Pronger: “I Almost Died on the Ice”

“As long as you are living, you can push forward and overcome,” is the message from former NHL All-Star and Stanley Cup champion Chris Pronger, as he continues to reflect upon his own experience with Commotio Cordis following the situation involving Buffalo Bills’ defensive back Damar Hamlin.

Pronger posted the following reflection to his social media after taking some time to reflect upon life, injuries and the unity of a team and its fans.

The following is in his own words:

“I played 18 years in the NHL. I won an MVP, Stanley Cup and two Olympic Gold medals. But in 1998, I almost died on the ice. 

Here’s the first-hand story of what happened on May 10, 1998. Second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs vs. Detroit Red Wings 

I blocked an oncoming slap shot, that hit me directly on the heart. I quickly covered it to get a whistle. It stung and I had a little trouble catching my breathe. 

I blacked out while on the ice but before passing out I was able to stand up and stumble forward a couple steps before collapsing. 

When the trainer got me, my eyes had rolled back in my head and my lips were turning blue. He removed my helmet and felt for a pulse. 

He did not feel one and checked again. By this time my lips were blue and they began to cut off my sweater to access my chest. 

They continued to check for a pulse but could not find one. Our trainer gave me a precordial thump in hopes of kickstarting my heart. As they were about to start compressions and CPR I took a big gasp of air. 

My lips pursed and turned pink again and my eyes returned to their natural position. As I regained consciousness, I was confused with where I was and it took a few seconds to orientate myself again. 

I was placed on a stretcher and taken to the ambulance waiting for me at the Zamboni gate. My parents to be at the game in Detroit, so I made sure at that point for someone to let them know I was ok. 

I spent the night in the hospital with a fantastic group of nurses and doctors! They took amazing care of me before I flew back to St Louis late the next morning. 

Once there I went to see Dr Patricia Cole, a cardiologist, so she could run a battery of tests on me. They also sent my results and documentation to Dr Barry Maron, who would then go on to classify this incident as Commotio Cordis. 

Dr. Maron also told us that at the time I was the only pro athlete to have survived this condition. And at the time, 1998, I was one of only 4 people he had in his data base that had survived a documented commotio cordis event 

After spending the day with Dr Cole and her team, I went home with a 24 hr heart monitor on, so that we had more data on how I was dealing with the aftereffects of what happened. We were to play game 3 of our playoff series the next night. 

After a restless sleep I went back to Dr Cole’s office to run more stress tests and to discuss the next course of action with respect to my return to play.  As you might imagine I had a lot of questions.

After pouring over the data from my heart monitor and having passed all the other tests I was cleared physically to play.  Now for the hard part. The mental side of getting back to play. So many questions still needed to be answered.

I sat down with the Doc and we began to go back and forth with our Q&A. I had a lot of questions, and she too had a few questions that had me thinking deeper for the answers than I even thought.  

She walked me through any potential obstacles to return.

Would I be more susceptible to injury? Are there any short term or long term ramifications if I was to return to play?

At the end of the day it really just became a question of whether I could block this incident out of mind and just play the game without it lurking in the back of my head.

With all my questions answered I decided to head down to the arena to take warm up for Game 3 and see how I felt.  Seeing the guys was a welcome sight as was getting back to the arena that had become my sacred ground where I could slip away into my comfort zone.

Or could I?

The butterflies were pumping hard when I began the walk out for warmup. The scene I walked out to was incredible. The fans went ballistic when they saw me hop onto the ice.

The rush of adrenaline and chills that went up my spine as the crowd cheered was like nothing I had felt before. With everything that I had been through in the last 36 hours this jolt of adrenaline was needed!

As I left the ice from warmup, I thought to myself, how can I not play in this game?  What an environment to be a part of. I walked into the coaches office and told them I was good to go!

The roar of the crowd when I skated onto the ice for the game was something to behold.

Those are moments athletes dream of.

Was playing a hockey game less than 48 hours after a Commotio Cordis incident the “smartest” thing? Maybe not.

But here are a few things I learned in the process:

The human spirit is everything!

There’s nothing I loved more than being on the ice with my brothers.

This is not about “toughness.” For me, it was about the love and commitment to something bigger than myself.

Since Damar Hamlin’s scary incident a few weeks ago, I’ve received a lot of questions about my own injury and have reflected a lot on my journey.

I hope it inspires and helps others who go through a similar scare.

As long as you are living, you can push forward and overcome!”

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