Letang's condition is not believed to be career threatening and is treatable with blood thinners. Testing revealed that Letang, who has missed Pittsburgh's past four games, has had a small hole in the wall of his heart since birth, a defect that occurs in all individuals before birth but seals shut in most people.
The hole could have led to Letang's stroke, according to a Penguins press release.
"Kris had one brief episode of dizziness and nausea last week," Penguins general manager Ray Shero said in the release. "We held him out of the Los Angeles game [Jan. 30], and when he continued to feel ill, tests conducted in Phoenix on Saturday gave us the first indication of his condition. Further testing then was conducted when he returned to Pittsburgh and he continued to undergo a battery of tests here this week."
Letang will be re-evaluated after six weeks of treatment by University of Pittsburgh Medical Center doctors. Dr. Dharmesh Vyas of UPMC was present during Pittsburgh's recent road trip as part of his usual duties and has been overseeing Letang's care.
"I hope that by making my condition public at this time I can help other people by encouraging them to seek medical help if they experience some of the symptoms associated with a stroke, regardless of their age or general health," Letang said in the release. "It obviously was a shock to get the news but I'm optimistic that I can overcome this and get back on the ice."
Penguins coach Dan Bylsma called Letang "one of the most finest-tuned athletes" Pittsburgh has and said Letang wanted to address his condition as soon as he could to spread awareness.
"Kris has made the point himself, that's why he's come out and talked about it in the release, it can happen to virtually anybody," Bylsma said. "To have the episode, to find out that he had a stroke, it's been scary. It's been scary for Kris as a hockey player, but just the health of Kris the person.
"You kind of shake your head at that this could be a possibility for him and for an athlete and a 26-year-old."
Penguins captain Sidney Crosby also said Letang's conditioning made the disclosure of the stroke a surprise.
"It's surprising for somebody his age and it's not something you typically hear, especially with a guy who takes so good of care of himself as he does," he said after the Penguins' 4-3 shootout loss to the New York Rangers on Friday night. "So I was surprised, but from what we've heard, he's well taken care of and it's under control. I'm not sure what he's going to do from here on in, but from what they've told us, it's not going to be career-threatening or anything like that, so just kind of surprised to hear that."
Fellow defenseman Matt Niskanen was relieved to hear that Letang should make a full recovery.
"I'm pretty shocked really. He's my age ... to think that that could happen to one of us," he said after the loss to the Rangers. "I don't know a whole lot about a stroke or what causes it or anything like that, but it's hard to believe it could happen to a well-conditioned athlete that's his age. So [it was] pretty awful news this morning, but I'm really happy that for now everything's OK and it looks like he's going to get back to full health."
Bylsma said Letang had "an episode" on the morning of Jan. 29, during the team's mother's trip. Letang's mother-in-law, who is a nurse, was present, but Letang felt well enough to travel with the team to Los Angeles.
Letang didn't skate Jan. 29 but did take part in the team's optional morning skate Jan. 30 at Staples Center. However, doctors felt the best course of action was to hold Letang out of the game against the Kings.
"We all saw him skate [Thursday] morning the day of the game," Bylsma said. "Our team doctors felt something, enough to keep him out of the game in L.A."
Tests performed Feb. 1 in Phoenix gave doctors the first indication that Letang had suffered a stroke. Tests performed in Pittsburgh proved that diagnosis correct.
"I heard some of the speculation, but really at no time point until maybe [Thursday] afternoon was there a certainty," Bylsma said. "The tests kept happening and continued to happen. So we didn't really feel like we had the ability to come out and say exactly what was going on. [Thursday] afternoon, we finally were at a point where we could come out and say something."
Bylsma said Letang will be on blood thinners for at least the next six weeks.
"My conversations over the last three days with Kris haven't had much to do with the power play, that's for certain," Bylsma said. "We've gotten more understanding over the past couple days, more than we did in Phoenix. I've had some more conversations with Kris about his overall health, what he's going through, and the last few days we've gotten a little bit of a better grasp on where he is at.
"[The conversations] aren't a lot to do with the power play or how he's bringing the puck up the ice. More so concern over Kris the person and his health."
Letang, a 2013 Norris Trophy finalist, has 10 goals and 18 points in 34 games this season. He missed the Penguins' first nine games this season with a lower-body injury and sat out 10 games in December with an upper-body injury.
Medical officials cleared Letang to go on vacation with his family during the Olympic break. After the break Letang is expected to resume skating on his own.
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