Gordie Howe's health failing after severe stroke
Helene St. James and George Sipple, Detroit Free Press 9:24 a.m. EDT October 29, 2014
Gordie Howe — the hockey legend and giant among Detroit sports figures — has suffered a severe stroke that has his family rushing to his bedside in Lubbock, Texas.
"I feel like this is his final lap around the rink," Murray Howe, one of Gordie's three sons, told the Free Press tonight. "I'm guessing that he's not going to recover ... but then again, he's about as strong as they get. If anybody can do it he can."
Another son, Mark Howe, recently told his children: Go see my father, because his health was failing. The message prompted Howe's daughter, Azia, to take her youngest child, Lahna, to see Gordie this past weekend. It may be the last time they do so.
Gordie Howe, the Detroit Red Wings legend so synonymous with his sport he became known as Mr. Hockey, suffered a stroke Sunday morning, one day after enjoying a pleasant stroll in Lubbock with Azia and Lahna. Gordie has been staying in Lubbock with his daughter, Cathy, and sons Mark, Marty and Murray started hurrying Tuesday to join their sister, and in all likelihood say good-bye to their famous dad.
"He had a bad stroke a couple of days ago, and I tried to do some FaceTime with him, and he looked really bad yesterday," Mark Howe said Tuesday evening during a layover in Denver. "He's pretty well immobile. It's not good, but at least my daughter spoke to him today and said she understood a couple of words, which is very encouraging.
"We're keeping our fingers crossed. If anybody can recover, I know Dad can."
Gordie, 86, suffers from dementia. In September, Mark Howe revealed to the Free Press that Gordie had had a very bad summer, one punctuated by mini-strokes. He also needed outpatient surgery to help with spinal stenosis, which caused him debilitating pain.
"The doctor said those mini-strokes would gradually get worse and worse," said Mark, like his father a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame. "With the type of dementia he has, the long-term outlook is not good. Dad was with me most of summer, and he had a very difficult summer. He had surgery, and that got rid of some of the pain. But he had small strokes, and we were told there were ultimately going to be bigger and bigger ones. That was predicted six months ago. And that's been the case.
"I told my kids earlier this summer, my dad's health is not what it should be. That's why my daughter went to Lubbock on Saturday, brought her little 1-year-old. They had a wonderful day, went for a long walk with Dad.
"Sunday morning, he had the stroke."
By this evening, messages of support poured in to the Howe family. Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper tweeted, "Wishing my friend Gordie Howe all the best, you're in all of our thoughts and prayers."
Mark Howe spent his time at the Denver airport scanning his phone. "I had 25 voice messages and text messages," he said. "And 90% of it is hockey people from around the world."
Gordie played professional hockey in the 1970s with sons Mark and Marty. His son Murray, meanwhile, went onto to become a doctor, and he heads the radiology department at Toledo Hospital. He described his father's condition today:
"Severe right-sided weakness. Lot of difficulty in talking, and I actually spoke with him tonight on FaceTime. All the family has been FaceTiming him to keep in contact until we could be there in person. He actually looked a little stronger to me tonight. He's speaking more clearly and he's definitely in very good spirits."
Murray said when Gordie saw the faces of family members he lit up. The family has a memory stick playing on a television with lots of photos of the Howe family over the years for Gordie to watch.
"He's watching all these pictures of he and my mom and us when we were little," Murray said. "Just trying to make it as pleasant as possible for him."
Gordie and Colleen Howe — she was affectionately known as Mrs. Hockey — were married for nearly 56 years. She died in 2009 after suffering from Pick's disease, a debilitating form of dementia.
"My dad has always been a practical person and always kind of raised us to tell it like it us," Murray said. "We're happy to share that. He has no regrets. If anybody has lived an amazing life, he's done it."
Murray said he hoped to arrive in Texas by noon today.
"He's such a wonderful person that saying good-bye to him is so, so difficult because he's everybody's hero," Murray said. "We love him to death. But we know nobody lives forever. He's 86 and we don't want him to suffer.
"He's going to be stuck in that bed and not be able to do the things that he likes to do like rake and shovel, sweep and all that. We're kind of leaving it up to him. He'll be his own guide.
"I told him tonight, 'Hang on, don't you go anywhere over the night cause I'm coming.' He was very pleased with that."
Contact Helene St. James: firstname.lastname@example.org
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