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Stanley Cup helped devoted Blues fan through difficult medical diagnosis

Evan Willnow's heart stopped for four minutes during Blues' Stanley Cup run last season

by Matt Lange / St. Louis Blues

ST. LOUIS - While the St. Louis Blues were battling the Dallas Stars in the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs last May, Blues fan Evan Willnow woke up in the hospital with his arms tied to the bed, a tube down his throat, two stents in his heart and not much recollection of how he got there.

Willnow, 55, a production artist in St. Louis, was on his way home after picking up his daughter, Zoe, from work. They were having a normal conversation about the day when Willnow started to slur his words. Zoe could sense that something was wrong and after getting home safely, she immediately called 911.

Willnow was transported to Anderson Hospital by ambulance that night, and soon after being admitted, had a seizure that progressed into a heart attack. His heart stopped for four minutes and he also was told he had a stroke.

Doctors performed CPR, placed Willnow on a ventilator and were successful in bringing him back to life. He spent several days in recovery and was released from the hospital and allowed to slowly return to his day-to-day routine, but a follow-up CT scan in September revealed something else.

"The doctors discovered that I hadn't been suffering from seizures or strokes but, in fact, a Stage-4 brain tumor," Willnow told stlouisblues.com. "Although the news was hard to hear, it started to clear up a lot of information about the issues I had been experiencing for me and my family."

Because Willnow was taking blood-thinning medications from his previous medical issues, doctors determined it was too dangerous to operate to remove the tumor in September.

Through all the difficult medical complications and concern for the future, Willnow says the Blues' run through the Stanley Cup Playoffs helped him in a big way. During his initial recovery in May, Willnow's passion for the Blues was on full display during the playoff run.

During the Western Conference Final, Zoe and her fiancee, Brennon, had tickets for the Game 5 Watch Party at Enterprise Center, but they intended to skip the event to stay by Willnow's side.

He wouldn't allow it.

"I couldn't talk very well, so I just banged three times really hard on the hospital bed trying to communicate to her," Willnow recalled. "It took awhile but eventually she found out I was trying to say 'Let's Go Blues!'"

Willnow's nurses would make sure every Blues game was on the TV in his hospital room, and the sound of the goal horn would wake him from sleep so he never missed a big highlight. The Blues would beat the Sharks 5-0 in Game 5 and eventually go on to the Stanley Cup Final.

Hours before Game 7 of the Final against Boston, Willnow was released from the hospital and returned home, where his wife, Liz, had organized a small watch party for the game. Willnow's brother, Lindle, flew home to be by his side to watch. The two grew up in University City and became devoted Blues fans while their family listened to Dan Kelly on the radio.

When the final buzzer sounded on a 4-1 Blues' win in Game 7, Willnow couldn't hold back his emotions.

"I cried like a little boy," he said. "It's been a dream of mine to witness a Stanley Cup victory since the Red Berenson days and it just felt so amazing and lifted my spirits so much after everything we had went through."

This September, while riding the bus to work, the left side of Willnow's body went numb and he was transported to Barnes-Jewish Hospital. More CT scans and MRIs revealed doctors would have to remove the brain tumor sooner rather than later. Surgery was performed to remove as much of it as possible, and Willnow has started chemotherapy and radiation while keeping a positive attitude and blue blood running through his veins.

Willnow's doctors and supporters hope the tumor will continue to reduce in size, allowing him enough time to witness another Blues run at the Stanley Cup this season. He is currently two-thirds of the way through his first six-week cycle of treatments at Siteman Cancer Center. Although he's lost much of his eyesight, Willnow spends his free time working on his third novel between treatments and watching every Blues game with his family in their living room.

"I'm so extremely happy to be a part of this amazing year in Blues' history," he said. "Even with (these medical complications) last year, I know that I've had a wonderful life. I've been able to look back on everything and just be happy… especially with the Blues."

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