By John Humphrey
Unlike older brothers Mark and Marty, Murray Howe never played professional hockey – he never even came close actually. He has, however, scored – or at least assisted on - a very big goal that hockey enthusiasts the world over continue to be most appreciative of.
Not only has Dr. Murray Howe played a significant role in the saving of his father Gordie's life, but he has helped coordinate Mr. Hockey's amazing and ongoing rehabilitation from a debilitating stroke.
After playing Junior B hockey in Toronto with the likes of Wayne Gretzky and Paul Coffey during the mid-1970's, Murray Howe was drafted in the 20th round in the 1977 Ontario Major Junior A Midget Draft by the Windsor Spitfires but he chose academics over athletics and instead enrolled at the University of Michigan. He attempted to catch on with the Wolverines' hockey team as a freshman walk-on but was unceremoniously cut during his Pre-Med studies. A left-winger who was only 5'6” and weighing 165 lbs at the time, Howe never attempted to play hockey competitively again.
After graduating from the U of M's medical school, he accepted a position as a radiologist in Toledo 25 years ago and has never left.
After Gordie Howe suffered a massive stroke at 86 on October 26, 2014 his health deteriorated quickly. A blood vessel in his brain had burst, killing cells in a region of the thalamus that controls motor function – or body movement.
“Dad was completely bed-ridden and could barely talk. He couldn't move his right side and he had no strength at all,” said Dr. Howe. “He received a lot of encouragement from the Red Wings and other teams and while that did perk him up a bit, after about two weeks he had really given up hope.”
Dr. Howe said his entire family were resigned to the supposed inevitability of Gordie's imminent passing away, especially when Mr. Hockey was re-admitted to hospital in December of 2014 due to severe dehydration.
“We thought we were getting close to getting ready to have to let him go,” Dr. Howe admitted. “It was a rough time for us all.”
Funeral arrangements were being planned and Dr. Howe even wrote his father's euology. Then, out of the blue, Dr. Howe was contacted by a stem cell company in California and he made the arrangements for his father to participate in a clinical trial in Mexico that saw the elder Howe regain movement on the affected side of his body after just two days. Gordie had to have the stem cell treatment in Mexico because he didn't meet the California requirement of having to be at least six months post-stroke.
“We had to go to Mexico," Dr. Howe said.
The fact that Dr. Howe was able to and continues to consult with his father's team of doctors, including Dr. Roger Kruse – Mr. Hockey's primary physician - and then turn around and break the news on a more personal yet just as professional level was and continues to be soothing for the entire immediate Howe family, which also includes sister Cathy.
“As the baby of the family, I never really had a lot of input in a lot of family matters but being in a privileged position as a doctor has given me the opportunity to play a more central role of both my parents,” he claimed. “I've sort-of quarterbacked my father's care and my siblings know that I have nothing but the best intentions for our dad, especially when it comes to getting him the best medical care available."
Gordie's wife Colleen passed away in 2009 from Pick's disease, a rare neurological disorder, and her medical care in her final years was also coordinated by Dr. Howe. Gordie Howe had his stroke while living with Cathy and her family in Texas and after undergoing a second set of stem cell treatments, he moved earlier in 2015 up to Toledo so he could stay with Dr. Howe while continuing to receive rehabilitation treatment. The move up north was also designed in part to move Mr. Hockey back close to his many friends and support system in Michigan.
Barring more medical setbacks, Gordie Howe will be living the rest of his days with Dr. Murray Howe and his family in Toledo.
“My dad is with his final team and he'll be staying with us,” Dr. Howe claimed. “It's such a thrill to be able to take care of your hero.”