Kris Letang Stroke Could Be Season Ending

Kris Letang
Kris Letang’s stroke could be season ending, but his condition isn’t supposed to be career threatening. (Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports)

According to my research, Kris Letang’s stroke could be season ending. This is much longer than the six weeks predicted by the Pittsburgh Penguins in a press release on Friday. During his time off, Letang will be treated with blood-thinners.

“He’ll be monitored I guess the whole time, but I don’t know if there’s a series of steps,” Bylsma said. “I don’t think there’s a one, two, three that he has to go through during the six-week period of time. He’ll be back here in Pittsburgh at that time and hopefully move on to something different after those six weeks.”

Taking blood-thinners and playing a contact sport isn’t recommended by doctors as evidenced by Tomas Vokoun’s absence. If a player is cut on blood-thinners, this can cause serious bleeding because blood-thinners potentially keep the blood from properly clotting according to Someone who takes blood-thinners cannot participate in a rugged or physical routine. Falls or injuries during intense exercise can cause serious internal bleeding.

It’s optimistic to think that Letang can return after his six-week hiatus. Considering the seriousness of his stroke, Letang may need more treatment besides blood-thinning medication.

Letang was born with a hole in his heart. This hole was believed to be the cause of his stroke. A hole in the heart is called a patent foramen ovale (PFO). Once an individual has a stroke, there is an increased risk of having another stroke.

Kris Letang has a hole in his heart which is called a patent foramen ovale (PFO). (Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports)
Kris Letang has a hole in his heart which is called a patent foramen ovale (PFO). (Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports)

Letang PFO Options

According to the National Stroke Association, there are two procedures to treat a PFO:

  1. To close the hole in the heart (PFO), an individual can opt for open-heart surgery. This presents serious risk as does any surgery.
  2. The other option is a closure of a PFO with a non-surgical device that acts as an umbrella to cover the hole in the heart. An implanted closure device, which resembles a tiny umbrella, is delivered to the PFO using a small tube threaded from a vein in the thigh up to the heart. The implant is released and expands in the flap, plugging the hole. The tube is then removed. Tissue grows in and around the implant to seal the PFO. Done typically as an out-patient procedure, it requires less recovery time than surgery.

Future of Letang’s Season

If Letang wants to play hockey again, he and his doctors will have to make some tough medical decisions. Letang can opt to have one of the procedures listed above where the hole in his heart will be closed, or he can return to play after he’s taken off of blood-thinners. Remember that blood-thinners don’t fix or close a PFO, but prevent blood clots that can cause a stroke. It would seem that Letang must have some sort of PFO procedure. It doesn’t seem logical that he’d be able to return after coming off of the blood-thinners with a hole in his heart unless his doctors believed it was safe.

There’s hope that Letang will return with the proper care, but a return this season seems unlikely in my opinion. I don’t see Letang’s doctors allowing him to play on blood-thinners. A procedure to close the hole in his heart will take some time for him to recover. There’s a chance that Letang already had a procedure to close his PFO, but this isn’t likely considering that the team only became certain of his condition on Thursday.

After speaking with stroke experts, they believe the hole in the heart must be closed so Letang can play hockey and reduce his chances of having another stroke. Former New England Patriots’ linebacker, Tedy Bruschi, returned from a stroke and a PFO. This is good news for Letang because Bruschi is proof that an athlete returned to a high contact sport like football.

Former New England Patriots' linebacker Tedy Bruschi, returned to football after having a stroke like Kris Letang. (Wikipedia Commons)
Former New England Patriots’ linebacker Tedy Bruschi, returned to football after having a stroke. (Wikipedia Commons)

This isn’t supposed to end Letang’s career, but anything dealing with the heart is serious. Letang’s health is much more important than his play on the ice. While many Penguins’ fans have criticized Letang’s performance this season, there’s no denying he’s a one of a kind defenseman in the league. The Penguins will miss him.

“Kris is a special player [and] he has special skills,” Bylsma said. “He can bring something to the game that not every player can bring. His skating ability, his shot, his offensive ability, it’s special. And you can’t replace that. You can’t replace that filling in with another guy or the next guy up. He’s a special player and has special skills.”