Phoenix Coyotes defenseman Kurt Sauer is a guy we haven’t heard from much in the last couple of seasons. Last year, Sauer played in just one game last season on October 3, 2009 against Los Angeles. In that game, Sauer suffered a neck injury that translated into a concussion.
Sauer hasn’t played another game since then and while many fans can get impatient waiting and hoping for their favorite player to get back from a concussion (as is the case with Sidney Crosby, Mike Green, and David Perron), as we’re finding out getting healthy from a brain injury like that is of vital importance.
As we learned from the sad tale of former Red Wings and Blackhawks enforcer Bob Probert, concussions take their toll over time as Probert was discovered to have CTE, a degenerative brain disease. While Sauer is out with a concussion of his own, we’re finding out that the recovery from such an injury can be debilitating, frustrating, and disheartening. Sarah McLellan of The Arizona Republic caught up with Sauer to see how he’s doing and his story is a must-read for anyone trying to get an idea of how tough it can be to bounce back from a concussion. This excerpt deals with how he handled things in 2009 after being injured.
He worked on his conditioning in practice, but one day he did a figure 8 and never stopped spinning. He started doing balance therapy and worked at it until the All-Star break. When he returned from a five-day hiatus, he wore an extremely loose helmet. After a brief workout, Sauer felt dizzy, and all of a sudden his helmet was hugging his skull.
That was the last time he trained on the ice.
Since then, Sauer continued therapy for a 16-week period to no avail. He’s seen doctors specializing in the neck, spine and brain, and no one has a clear diagnosis.
“It’s a peculiar set of symptoms,” Sauer said. “It doesn’t fit into one category.”
When he wakes up at 6:30, it takes him an hour and a half to get out of bed. A headache persists for most of the day, and his eyes hurt and ears ring. The right side of his neck aches, as does his right shoulder. If he deals cards, his right hand turns a shade of purple, almost green, and his veins bulge. If something startles him, he feels nauseous. Whenever he helps out at Kohl’s hockey practice, he leaves the ice feeling sick. He needs a nap after trying to teach Kade how to ride a bike.
McLellan’s look into what Sauer’s life is all about now as the symptoms and ailments that still linger is both touching and sad. While he gets to be the house dad to his four children (Kade, Kohl, Kasen, and Kruz) his inability to even be a fully functional and fun-loving dad is hindered by the lingering effects of his injury as he’s unable to sit through a full hockey practice or teach them how to ride a bike without feeling nauseous or needing a nap.
Stories like this from Sauer should be the sort of thing the NHL and NHLPA take a closer look at as it’s an example of just how bad things can be for what was always treated as a minor injury. While Major League Baseball has gone the proactive route instituting a trial seven-day disabled list for those with concussion symptoms, the NHL (and NFL likewise) are more high-contact sports where physicality is part of the nature of the beast. Sauer’s story as well as the long recovery time for other stars like David Perron and Sidney Crosby should be all the proof the NHL needs to know they need to be more vigilant in protecting the players in one way or another.
Stories like Sauer’s should be used as a prime example of why things must be improved and while things are moving in the right direction thanks to what happened to Crosby, it shouldn’t take a superstar’s absence to get the wheels spinning faster in the right direction for player safety.