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Penguins' Letang addresses stroke; return uncertain

by Wes Crosby

PITTSBURGH -- Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Kris Letang is not sure if he will return this season after sustaining a stroke in January.

Letang, who has missed Pittsburgh's past five games, said he is not targeting a specific date for his return and is instead "targeting day-by-day." The 2013 Norris Trophy finalist is training but has not returned to his normal workout regimen.

He said he started using light weights and is gradually building toward his usual routine.

"I have some good days, some bad days [physically]," Letang said. "I think the most difficult thing is around family, everybody is really careful. I can't even lift their luggage without having them try to help me out.

"Otherwise, it's been just mentally a little bit tough."

Kris Letang
Kris Letang
Defense - PIT
GOALS: 10 | ASST: 8 | PTS: 18
SOG: 100 | +/-: -6
Letang said he would like to play as soon as possible, but "there are many things" that will not allow him to rush his return. He will undergo more tests in two or three weeks then  decisions regarding his potential return can be made.

The 26-year-old defenseman was found by his wife on the floor the morning he had the stroke; he was preparing to leave for Pittsburgh's road trip to Los Angeles. He was conscious, but his body was not functioning properly.

"The day before, I was totally fine. I was practicing and I woke up that morning not expecting that to happen and it happened like this," Letang said. "My family is really worried. That was a difficult part. When you see your mom crying or your wife or any of my family members, it's always a tough thing to handle."

His wife did not call for paramedics as his mother-in-law, who is a nurse, treated him. Letang traveled to Los Angeles with his mother thinking his symptoms would clear, but "it never did."

Doctors have monitored Letang since his stroke, meeting with him twice a week, he said. Letang will stay on blood-thinners for the time being. He said the hole that was discovered in his heart might have been the cause of his stroke, but it isn't certain.

The symptoms Letang is experiencing stem from the damage the stroke did to his brain and do not correlate with the hole in his heart. He said he is not focused on having surgery to mend the hole.

Letang has been visible around Penguins facilities over the past week and has watched some Pittsburgh practices.

"To be around the team and coming to the rink, working out, seeing doctors, I feel like I'm trying to make steps to get closer to come back at one point," Letang said.

Defenseman Brooks Orpik said the Penguins have appreciated seeing Letang around and hopes he can return for the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

"He seems like he's in good spirits. Obviously a really scary situation there," Orpik said. "I know a lot of us were giving him grief at the time and he was laughing about it too. He thought it was something a lot more minor and obviously it turned out to be something pretty scary.

"I think we're just glad to see him around. Hopefully he just keeps getting better and stays patient with it."

After being told he had a stroke, Letang called his wife to help translate the word because he did not understand it due to a language barrier. Once he understood what had happened, he said he "didn't really believe it."

"I kind of figured it out and from there you think if you're going to be alright," Letang said. "If I'm going to have the chance to play hockey again, but I was surrounded by great doctors. They took great care of me, and all my questions were answered and I'm making progress, I guess."

After missing 24 games with injuries this season, Letang said he is frustrated, but that missing a large portion of the season will not affect his play if he is able to return.

"I'm going to say, it's not really a good season for me, not really lucky," he said. "But honestly, if I have the chance to come back this year and play, it's going to be great and I want make sure I forget all about the three quarters of the season I missed."

Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said the team was shocked when informed of Letang's condition.

"We had seen him skate and be fine skating and do a morning skate," Bylsma said. "Now he's working out and he's active and he's pretty normal back there. So, I think it's just good for him to be around the guys.

"He's doing well and working out, and looking down the road to what the possibilities are."

Doctors have told Letang he is part of a small percentage of people who have suffered a stroke at his age, but that his youth gives him a good chance at returning to normal.

"I've been focusing on just talking to my doctors and going to rehab," Letang said. "It's kind of reassuring that I will play again."

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