On the day almost 30 years ago that Hank Gathers fell to the floor at Loyola Marymount, we realized again that athletes are just like us, subject to the same sudden medical trauma that can change lives in an instant.
That thought really resonated on Tuesday when St. Louis Blues defenseman Jay Bouwmeester collapsed on the bench during the team’s game in Anaheim.
“Our worst-conditioned athlete is a great athlete, and Jay is at the top of his profession as far as training and taking care of himself,” Blues general manager Doug Armstrong said Wednesday at a press conference held in Las Vegas where the Blues play Thursday. “It crystalizes how quickly things can change.”
Armstrong said Bouwmeester was initially unresponsive when he fell during the first period and that medical personnel at the Honda Center had to use a defibrillator to revive him.
After working to stabilize Bouwmeester, the medical staff took him to UC Irvine Medical Center where he was put through a series of tests designed to determine what happened.
In that regard, Bouwmeester was much luckier than Gathers and Detroit Lions receiver Chuck Hughes, who collapsed on the field at Tiger Stadium during a game against the Chicago Bears in 1971. They both passed away after being taken to the hospital.
As you’d expect, Bouwmeester’s teammates are very concerned. The Blues and Ducks did the right thing by calling off the game. There was no way they could have continued after seeing something like that happen. The game will be rescheduled.
“It’s hard to even explain. It happened so fast,” Blues captain Alex Pietrangelo said Wednesday. “It felt like an eternity for us. We reacted as fast as we could. [The medical staff] was impressive to see. It’s not easy to see anybody go through, let alone a close friend and teammate.”
Bouwmeester had just come to the bench after a shift and collapsed while appearing to reach for some water. His teammates immediately sensed he was in trouble and called for assistance.
Ironically, Bouwmeester’s father was in the stands when it happened. The team sponsors a Dad trip every season. The Blues immediately contacted Bouwmeester’s wife , Devon, who was not watching the game.
“Fortunately she wasn’t watching the game, so I was able to explain to her what was happening, made her as comfortable as possible that he was getting the best medical care,” Armstrong said. “Our fathers trip is going on … so having Jay’s father (Dan) there was obviously difficult for him, but good for Devon to have someone to talk to. Our wives are all reaching out. I know (Alexander Steen’s wife Josefine) went by last night. It’s just how our group is. We take care of each other.”
Bouwmeester is a seasoned veteran, now in his 17th NHL season. The former first-round pick of the Florida Panthers, he ranks second among active defensemen with 1,241 games and is fourth overall in league history. And he’s been a man of steel. He once played in 737 straight games until an injury finally benched him in 2014.
The Blues players have been in touch with Bouwmeester. Pietrangelo and Bouwmeester’s father saw him at the hospital and then arranged for a Face Time chat with the remainder of his teammates.
“I think it was important for me just to see him and for everybody else to see him,” Pietrangelo said. “Bouw had his opportunity to kind of see everybody (and) everybody sent him their wishes. I’m not going to speak for everybody, but I think it made everybody feel a lot better knowing he was in good hands. He was in good spirits with us.
“It’s not easy to see anyone go through it, let alone a close friend, a teammate that you spend every day with. We’re a tight group in our locker room; if you’ve been around us, you know how close we are. We’re lucky to have each other any time you’re going through something like this.”
According to the NHL, two other players had collapsed during games over the last 15 seasons – Dallas Stars forward Rick Peverley in 2014 and Detroit’s Jiri Fischer in 2005. Both were fine after being treated.
The NHL requires at least two doctors attend every game and one must be within 50 feet of the bench. A defibrillator must also be available, as well as a triage room and ambulances. So it was well-prepared for what could have been a tragedy.
“We would like to thank (Blues head athletic trainer) Ray Barile and his staff, plus the Ducks medical staff, including both the trainers and the physicians, for their quick response,” Armstrong said. “There’s never a good time for something like this to take place, but there could not have been a better location than the Honda Center. Thanks to everyone at Honda Center for their life-saving efforts.
“It’s a testament to the NHLPA and the NHL that make sure the teams do all the proper work behind the scenes to have the people in the right spots to help the guys if anything happens.”