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Howes dispute report's dementia claim

by Bill Roose / Detroit Red Wings
Marty Howe (L) and his famous father, Gordie, were in Ottawa last weekend for the 2012 All-Star game festivities. (Photo by Getty Images)
VANCOUVER, British Columbia – Marty Howe disputed a published story Thursday, which reported that his famous father and Red Wings legend Gordie Howe is in failing health with dementia.

Speaking at a news conference Thursday afternoon inside the Pacific Coliseum, where the WHL’s Giants plan to honor Mr. Hockey at a game Friday night, Marty said he wanted to set the record straight over Mr. Hockey’s current state of health, which was over-exaggerated.

“I just want to clear up one thing, it's really not dementia,” Marty said. “It may turn into it. … Basically his brain doesn't function properly because of past injuries.”

Since the erroneous report came out Thursday, the Howes have been inundated with calls and emails from concerned friends and fans. 

“I've been getting sympathy notes and all kinds of remedy things all day long, people think he's going to die tomorrow, and he's not,” Marty said. “Gordie's doing fine. He's probably healthier than I am on a treadmill, his pulse never gets over 60. The man's a horse. As far as doing things like his (press conferences) it's hard on him now. He'd rather not do it.''

Gordie, who rarely does media interviews anymore, did not speak at Thursday news conference.

Doctors also told the Howe family that Gordie may have had a mini-stroke when he was the primary care-giver for his wife, Colleen, during the years leading up to her 2009 death caused by Pick’s disease, a rare form of dementia marked by changes in mood, behavior and personality, followed by memory loss similar to that experienced in Alzheimer's disease.

“It's a lot of pressure on the body and he wanted to try to do what he could do by himself,” Marty said. “We had to talk him into getting some help. During that time he had a couple of episodes where he had loss of memory. The doctors, and us, all feel it was probably from a mini-stroke.”

The Howes believe that Gordie’s condition is currently mild, though they have not sought a medical diagnosis of exactly what kind he may have.

Undoubtedly, players of Howe’s era suffered concussions, but concussions weren’t tracked by the NHL back then, so it’s difficult to say exactly how many he may have had during his 28-season career.

However, Howe did suffer significant head trauma from a serious injury that occurred in Game 1 of the Red Wings’ Stanley Cup semifinals series against the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1950.

In that game, played at Detroit’s Olympia Stadium, Howe went crashing head-first into the boards while trying to check the Maple Leafs’ Teeder Kennedy. Howe remained on the ice in a pool of blood before he was carted off on a stretcher and taken to a local hospital. Doctors later drilled a three-inch hole in his skull to relieve pressure that had built on his brain.

While the long-term effects of that concussion, or any subsequent ones that the Hall of Famer may have had aren’t known, brain injuries have been very much in the news lately, however, the Howes are hesitant to link Gordie’s condition to chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), the degenerative brain disease found in autopsies of some people, especially former athletes, who have had multiple head trauma.

“It all adds up. Earlier in his career, when he had his head injury, anybody who had a three-quarter (inch) hole drilled in their head is going to have some affects at some time,” Marty said. “He's done well all these years. It's been a slow process in the memory loss but most older people are running into that.”

Following his brain surgery in 1950, Howe’s eye’s began to twitch with more regularity, which he still does today. Because of that, his Wings’ teammates often called him Blinky.

Gordie, who turns 84 on March 31, continues to travel throughout the U.S. and Canada, making appearances at trading card shows and other events. He still owns part of the Vancouver Giants’ franchise, along with famous Canadian crooner Michael Bublé.

Bublé, who attended Thursday’s news conference, has had Gordie to a few concerts when the singer has been in Detroit. “He's got a great sense of humor, a sharp sense of humor,” Bublé said. “He kids with me, and he remembers stuff we were talking about years ago.”

After Colleen Howe's death, the Howes were approached by a Toronto-based health organization to be a spokesman for a fundraising campaign for Alzheimer's. The organization, affiliated with the University of Toronto, Baycrest, specializes in mental diseases of the elderly.

Howe, accompanied by Marty, makes public appearances at an annual series of Scotiabank Pro-Am hockey tournaments across Canada. Howe made an appearance at an event in Kamloops on Wednesday and is scheduled to attend tonight’s Red Wing-Canucks game at Rogers Arena, where he will promote a tournament in Vancouver later this year. Marty says his father plans to help kick off the same tournaments in Edmonton, Calgary and Toronto this spring.

“Overall, he's healthy as a rock,” Marty said. “We'll continue to do this (make appearances) as long as he's able to. He's doing well, for being 84 next month. I don't know what you expect mentally from somebody. He's not as well as he could be, but he's still going fine”

Follow Bill Roose on Twitter | @RooseBill

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