BUFFALO, N.Y. – Florida Panthers forward Richard Zednik lost five units of blood, but doctors never considered his life in jeopardy after the player had his carotid artery nearly severed by a teammate’s skate in a freak and frightening accident.
Zednik underwent an hour of surgery to reconnect the artery Sunday night and was listed in stable condition in the intensive care unit at Buffalo General Hospital on Monday. He was awake and co-operative with the medical staff, doctors said.
Attending surgeon Sonya Noor said there were no initial signs of brain damage, which is a fear whenever the coratid artery is clamped. She said clamps were in place for about 15 to 20 minutes during surgery, which she considers a short time.
“So far, he looks very good. He’s awake, oriented,” said Noor. “He remembers what happened last night.”
Zednik was sliced across the right side of the throat by teammate Olli Jokinen’s skate midway through the third period of Buffalo’s 5-3 victory. Doctors said the skate blade just missed cutting the jugular vein.
The carotid artery supplies blood to the brain, while the jugular vein takes blood from the brain. Blood pressure is much higher in the carotid artery.
According to Noor, the slashed artery was “hanging by a thread.” She stressed if the artery had been completely severed it would have recessed into the neck, requiring even more extensive surgery.
Prior to surgery, doctors noted that Zednik’s blood pressure was dropping, and there was also swelling around the cut making it difficult to breath. Doctors put a tube in his neck to open an airway.
Robert McCormack, the hospital’s clinical chief of emergency medicine, said: “We became concerned. He was clearly in shock from blood loss. His heart rate was high his blood pressure was a bit low.”
Vascular surgeon Richard Curl, who assisted Noor, said the cut was about four centimetres deep and also as wide. Doctors were astonished the skate blade did not hit any other arteries or veins or cause any further damage.
“Luck,” was a factor, according to Noor.
“He might have some hoarseness and that’s about it at this point,” said Noor, who said Zednik had a “normal, beautiful artery.”
The Panthers returned home to South Florida following the game, a flight coach Jacques Martin said was “pretty quiet.”
However, Zednik was joined at the hospital by his wife, Jessica, and Karen Cohen, wife of Alan Cohen, who is the Panthers’ general partner, chairman of the board and CEO, hospital spokesman Mike Hughes said in a release. The two arrived by charter flight late Sunday night.
Zednik will remain in the ICU at least one more day, but it is uncertain when he will be discharged and allowed to return to Florida, Noor said. It will be six to eight weeks before he can return to normal activity.
“The entire Panthers organization wish to extend their sincere gratitude and appreciation to the medical staff at Buffalo General Hospital, the Buffalo Sabres organization, the HSBC Arena staff and to the Panthers and Sabres fans who have expressed their thoughts and concerns,” Panthers assistant general manager Randy Sexton said.
Sexton and Panthers assistant trainer Dave Zenobi stayed overnight with Zednik at the hospital.
Zednik was circling the net behind the play and skating into the corner when Jokinen was upended by Sabres forward Clarke MacArthur. Jokinen fell headfirst to the ice, and his right leg and skate flew up and struck Zednik directly on the side of the neck.
Clutching his neck, Zednik left a trail of blood as he somehow raced three-quarters the length of the ice to the Panthers bench. He nearly fell into the arms of Zenobi, who immediately placed a towel on the player’s throat. With the help of defenceman Jassen Cullimore, Zednik was escorted up the tunnel behind the bench and loaded into an ambulance.
Sabres Orthopedic surgeon Les Bisson said injuries to the carotid artery are potentially fatal, but stressed that was not a concern because Zednik was conscious and responding to commands.
“That could be fatal, but I wouldn’t say he was close to death,” Bisson said. “If you can stop the bleeding, then you have some time … I wouldn’t say at any point, we’re thinking: ‘He’s going to die now.”‘
A 12-year veteran, Zednik is in his first season with the Panthers.
When Zednik was with Montreal he sustained a severe concussion, broken nose, bruised throat and cut eyelid following a vicious blow to the face by Boston’s Kyle McLaren during the 2002 playoffs. Zednik was knocked cold, had to be taken off the ice on a stretcher and spent the night in intensive care.
McLaren was suspended by the NHL for the rest of the Eastern Conference quarter-finals, missing the final two games of the series, which Montreal won in six games.
Zednik returned the following season to score a career-high 31 goals and match a career high with 50 points.
He signed with the Panthers as a free agent last summer. After a two-month slump, he has been playing well. He entered the game on a four-game point streak, in which he had six goals and three assists, giving him 26 points (15 goals, 11 assists) in 54 games this season.
“I think he’ll be able to continue his career,” Martin said. “I think it’s too soon to establish a time of his return.”