When it was announced in January that Pittsburgh Penguins All-Star defenseman Kris Letang was missing games due to an illness, no one outside of the organization thought much of it. Professional athletes have a tentative schedule, and here and there they’ll catch the flu or some sort of minor virus. No big deal we all thought; he will return after the Olympic break.
Then it was revealed that Letang suffered a stroke, and the severity of the illness finally began to rise to the surface.
With Letang’s season now in question, he relived the experience on Thursday.
On the morning of Jan. 29, Letang was face down on the floor in his bedroom when his wife walked in and found him. He was responsive, but it was obvious that something was very wrong.
“I was not able to function,” he said.
Later in the day, Letang felt well enough to travel with the team to Los Angeles, but after a series of tests it was determined that Letang had suffered a stroke.
It had to be a shock for the 26-year-old to hear that he had endured something as serious as a stroke. He’s one of the best defensemen in the NHL and is conditioned to play up to 30 minutes per night with the Penguins. When you think of a person who is at risk of having a stroke, someone like Letang is the last image to appear in your mind.
According to strokecenter.org, only one fourth of strokes occur in people under the age of 65, and in 2005, a study showed that the average age of people who experienced their first stroke was 69.
“It’s been, mentally, very tough,” Letang said. “It’s tough to believe. I’m in the .01 percentage. When I found out, I didn’t believe it. I didn’t even understand the word. I had to call my wife and ask her what it was. She went to school in English.”
Letang was the first to praise the work of his doctors, who reassured Letang that he will be able to play again at some point.
That point just shouldn’t be this season. It’s going to be difficult and in my eyes he’s the best offensive defenseman in the NHL not named Erik Karlsson, but he needs to take the rest of this year and focus on his health. The Penguins are definitely a better team with Letang in the lineup, but the risk just isn’t worth it.
Letang signed an eight-year, $58 million extension last summer which will give him plenty of time to be on the ice in black and gold.
For now he should rest, be with his family and support his teammates while they fight for Lord Stanley.
Please, Kris. Coming from someone who loves to watch the magic that you create on the ice, take your time and get healthy. We’ll be patient, and I can’t wait to see you on the ice again with the Penguins’ crest across your chest.