On Jan. 20, doctors told Kyle Okposo he may never see out of his left eye again.
Okposo had a detached retina that required emergency surgery, a potential side effect of which was partial-to-total vision loss.
Okposo underwent the procedure and now, six weeks later, he’ll see the ice, returning to the Islanders lineup to face the New York Rangers.
“It was definitely a scary thing," Okposo said. "The doctor told me my vision wasn’t guaranteed to come back. At that point, you start realizing what’s important, not just hockey, but the rest of my life.”
Okposo has worn glasses since he was seven years old and said his vision was never great, but on that Tuesday afternoon in January, he said there was a noticeable change. He initially attributed his blurry vision to his contact lenses, but when it didn’t improve after removing his lenses, he sought a medical opinion.
“It was immediate (surgery), or lose my eyesight,” Okposo said.
Doctors peeled back the conjunctiva and reattached the retina, theoretically making it stronger, though Okposo’s nearsightedness still keeps him at risk.
Okposo’s immediate recovery called for patience. There wasn't a lot he could do in the first few weeks, but has been working out off the ice for several weeks. He skated at Islanders Iceworks starting Mar. 2 before rejoining the team in Florida to participate in two morning skates.
“You just have to let your eye heal,” Okposo said. “It’s a major surgery and you just have to see how your eye reacts to it and that your retina is stable.”
Head Coach Jack Capuano said he wouldn’t play Okposo at less than 100 percent and will try to ease him back into the lineup to regain his mid-season conditioning.
“He’s been skating hard, he’s ready to go and excited,” Capuano said. “But you’re never going to come back in and have the conditioning level you wanted. The only way to get it where you want it to be is to play some hockey.”
Okposo’s return is a big boost for the Islanders. Despite missing 22 games, Okposo is still the team’s second-leading scorer, with 44 points (14 goals, 30 assists) in 46 games.
“It’s a big boost for our lineup getting a high-caliber player like Kyle [back],” John Tavares said. “He was playing great before the injury. He’s been looking good on the ice and it’s a huge break [for us].”
NEWS, NOTES AND QUOTES:
Halak Starts: Jaroslav Halak will start in goal tonight for the Islanders. Halak is 3-1-0 this season against the Rangers with a 2.51 goals against average, a .951 save percentage and one shutout.
Leddy TBD: Nick Leddy will be a game-time decision for the Islanders.
Lineup TBD: Head Coach Jack Capuano has not determined his lineup for tonight, or where Okposo will play.
Mouillierat to Bridgeport: Kael Mouillierat was returned on loan to the Bridgeport Sound Tigers this afternoon.