It was back in November of 2003 when 21-year-old Aaron Voros
was informed by doctors that amputating his leg would offer the best chance at surviving the cancer that had been festering beneath his kneecap.
“My mom instantly started bawling and my dad was all banged up, but I was kind of numb to it all,’’ Voros told NHL.com. “I remember when the doctors talked about cutting my leg off and I’m like; ‘Well, is there some sort of procedure that would allow me to skate again a year from now?’ ’’
Yep, Voros is a hockey player and prior to discovering that half-a-baseball-sized vascular tumor inconspicuously tucked under his kneecap and attached to his femur, he had a lot to be thankful for.
Today, following four different hospital visits, seven operations and eight agonizing weeks of flushing tubes that flowed from his chest to his heart, he’s just thankful to be alive.
Voros is also enjoying his lifelong dream of playing in the NHL this season -- as incredible as that may sound -- for the Minnesota Wild
. This, despite the fact a quarter-inch section of the lower femur in his left leg is now missing, the result of his body rejecting the cadaver bone that was originally stuffed into the open wound that caused a staph infection.
His is a story of survival and courage and one that will certainly pull at the heartstrings of anyone willing to listen. Voros, now 26, has been nominated for this season’s Masterton Trophy as that NHL player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance and dedication to hockey.
“It seems silly now, but I was a young guy at the time I learned about the tumor and I felt invincible,’’ Voros admitted. “I was a late bloomer and worked my way up through the Junior A ranks in Canada and was drafted right before I started getting all that recognition and notoriety in college. My life revolved around hockey.’’
Voros starred in the British Columbia Hockey League with the Victoria Salsa, helping the team to the 2001 Fred Page Cup title. After being drafted by the New Jersey Devils
in the 10th round of the 2001 Entry Draft, he attended the University of Alaska-Fairbanks and was named to the CCHA All-Rookie Team in 2002. It was the following season in 2002-03 when Voros’ world took a dramatic turn for the worse.
“I complained about a pain alongside of my knee during one of our games,’’ Voros recalls. “At the time, I was given medication to mask the pain, but the tumor kept growing. After going off the medication, my leg really started to ache, but I played through it. When I could no longer bend my leg backward, I had an X-ray and MRI taken and a tumor was discovered right underneath the kneecap, attached to the femur. It was well-hidden and a very aggressive form of cancer (Osteo-Blastoma). It was then when everything began to snowball.’’
The most frightening part of Voros’ three-month ordeal may have been when doctors discovered the staph infection following his fourth surgery.
“I remember waking up on the table and seeing my whole leg opened up in order to clean the infection,’’ said Voros, who recalls every detail of every procedure performed as if it happened yesterday. On three occasions each day over a seven-day stretch, Voros was rendered helpless as doctors used gauze and a “power-washing’’ machine to remove the staph. Added Voros: “I was told it was the most painful thing to have performed at the hospital, next to healing burn victims and those suffering from a gunshot wound to the internal organs.’’
Not until he finally met a tumor specialist at the University of Washington and had subsequent surgery on Jan. 30, 2003, was Voros’ nightmare finally reaching an end.
“The specialist told me and my parents that in his 35 years of practice and diagnosing tumors, he had never seen anything like this and that he might be able to save my leg,’’ Voros said. “After hearing that, the three-hour drive from Seattle back to (hometown) Vancouver was probably the most elated I’ve ever felt in my life.’’
With the assistance of Alaska-Fairbanks strength and conditioning coach Mike Curtin, Voros’ rehabilitation program took shape in the summer of 2003. He added 42 pounds and prepared himself for a miraculous return to the ice. He would play in 36 games for Alaska in 2003-04, scoring 16 goals, 24 points and 132 penalty minutes before joining the American Hockey League’s Albany River Rats. He was traded to Minnesota from New Jersey on March 1, 2007, in exchange for a 2008 seventh-round draft choice.
“I feel in better shape now than ever before and I’m really motivated,’’ said Voros (14 points), whose 90 hits rank third-highest for the Wild this season.
Earning nomination for the Masterton has taken on a different meaning for Voros.
“In my eyes, this honor would almost be a type of blessing in how thankful I am to be in this position when it really didn’t look so good at one point,’’ Voros said. “After going through everything and battling through the pain, I now realize how fortunate I am. You sort of forget about the people who don’t have it so great when things are going so well, but I’ve learned differently. I’ll never forget the people who helped me get through this and consider myself very lucky.’’
So to do those NHL fans, coaches and players to have Voros back on the ice.
Contact Mike Morreale at email@example.com.