In September of this year, Penguins backup goaltender Tomas Vokoun suffered life-threatening blood clots. At the time, it was reported that he would not return to the ice for several months, if he returned at all. Vokoun previously had issues with blood clots in April 2006. His increasing age and past medical history leads to one conclusion: The man needs to retire.
As a nurse, I have treated countless patients with blood clots. I also have family members who have had them. I have even experienced recurring blood clots personally (and I’m only 31 years old). It is possible for a patient to have a small blood clot, take anticoagulants—aka “blood thinners”—for several months, come off of them and never have another problem. But when blood clots recur, things become trickier. I’ve witnessed this with patients, family members, and yes, even myself—when blood clots recur, blood thinners become a long-term (and sometimes a lifelong) treatment.
Now, I am not a doctor. And I am sure Vokoun has wonderful doctors who would not clear him to play unless they were certain he would not be harming himself in doing so.
That being said, I cannot see Vokoun’s doctors discontinuing his anticoagulant therapy after he nearly died from his most recent scare. He was able to recover and return to the ice in 2006, but he was also seven years younger. Vokoun described the blood clots he had in September as being from the “mid-thigh to the heart“–that’s no small problem. What he experienced is obviously very serious and very, very scary. With his medical history, it would seem rather risky to discontinue his blood thinners anytime in the near future.
I also can’t help but wonder just how comfortable he’d be stepping back onto the ice, regardless of medical clearance. Over the weekend, the official Penguins Twitter account tweeted some quotes from Vokoun, where he didn’t rule out playing again, but he also didn’t rule retiring. Reading what he said after his recent scare, it would certainly be reasonable if he chooses to retire.
If Vokoun is able to return, I will cheer him on and hope he stays healthy. I personally believe he should retire. This is not something I say lightly. It’s understandably difficult for any professional athlete to step away from the sport he/she loves. Stepping away from such a lucrative job can’t be easy either. Still, good health always trumps all.