Kris Letang was calm, even relaxed. He smiled several times Thursday during an interview with a cluster of reporters. But the details he outlined told a hair-raising story.
It was the morning of Jan. 29. Letang’s wife, Catherine, found the Penguins defenseman on the floor in their home. He was conscious, but “I was just not able to function,” he recalled.
It was days later that Letang, 26, was diagnosed as having had a stroke, but that morning his visiting mother-in-law, a nurse, attended to him, so they did not call 911.
Penguins' Kris Letang hopeful about a return to hockey
Penguins defenseman Kris Letang says he still has symptoms from a stroke he suffered on Jan. 30, but doctors believe he'll be able to play hockey again. (Video by Nate Guidry; 2/27/2014)
Letang was able to drive to the airport with his mother — he told French reporters in town for the Montreal Canadiens’ game at Consol Energy Center Thursday night that his driving was somewhat erratic — and they boarded a team charter to Los Angeles for the start of the Penguins’ first moms’ trip.
By the end of that two-game trip, Letang’s diagnosis became clear, although the full scope of the situation took a few more days to be determined and learned.
Letang, looking a bit thin, has been at the arena daily, watching practice and hanging around with his teammates, but he is not back to normal. He is trying to ramp up off-ice workouts that are hindered by the stroke’s effects.
“Right now, we’re trying to intensify things, trying to teach my head and my body how to react to work out in an intense workout,” he said.
In addition to being on blood-thinners that preclude him from practicing or playing, Letang still has other symptoms.
“I have some good days, bad days,” he said. “I’m going day by day to get to 100 percent. It’s not as bad as when it happened, but there are symptoms. Some days, it’s stronger symptoms than others.”
Letang is in contact with doctors a couple of times a week. In two to three weeks, “I will go through another battery of tests,” he said.
While it seems as if playing again this season would be a long shot, Letang is not ruling anything out — except retiring.
“I feel I’m making progress,” he said. “[Doctors] said that my being 26 and having a stroke, it’s a small percentage [of that happening], but the chance that I get back to normal is really high. They kind of reassured me that I will play again.”
Letang was as incredulous as anyone to learn that he had had a stroke.
“Honestly, when I found out, I didn’t really believe it,” he said. “First, I didn’t understand the word. I had to call my wife and ask her what it was. She went to school in English. I kind of figured it out, and, from there, you think about if I’m going to be all right, if I’m going to have the chance to play hockey again.”
During extensive testing, it also was discovered that Letang has a tiny hole in his heart that likely has been there since birth. He said while it’s possible that caused his stroke, there are no plans to repair the hole.
“The hole in the heart is not a problem because I’ve been living with it for 26 years, and I never had a problem with it, conditioning-wise or anything like that,” he said.
“The symptoms are from that stroke, what damage it did to my brain. For now, it’s just worrying about my head.”
Letang’s teammates were jarred to learn he had a stroke but have been reassured by having him around.
“It’s big for us, and I’m sure it’s big for him — just staying positive and keeping a good mindset,” fellow defenseman Robert Bortuzzo said. “We know how much he means to our team, how much he loves being around, but for him to be smiling and staying positive is good for him and good for us.”
Team captain Sidney Crosby gave Letang a hug on the bench Wednesday when Letang came out of the locker room to watch practice.
“He’s been just awesome the way he’s handled everything,” Crosby said. “He’s been pretty vocal about what’s happened. He’s your teammate. You care about him. The better you see his spirits, the easier it is on everyone else.
“The fact that it is something out of the ordinary, and he’s handled it this well says a lot about how strong he is.”
The toughest part, Letang said, is trying to comfort his relatives.
“My family is really worried,” he said. “That was a difficult part to manage, when you see your mom crying or your wife or any of my family members.
“Everybody is really careful. I can’t even lift their luggage without having them trying to help me out. Otherwise, it’s just been mentally a little bit tough.”
Shelly Anderson: email@example.com, 412-263-1721 and Twitter @pgshelly First Published February 27, 2014 12:52 PM