NAME: Trent McCleary
TEAM: Montreal Canadiens (Hockey)
INJURY: Fractured Larynx and Collapsed Lung
OTHER ATHLETES AFFECTED
Hockey: Eric Lindros, Philadelphia Flyers; Al MacInnis, St. Louis Blues; Basketball: Keon Clark, Denver Nuggets (all with collapsed lung)
HOW IT HAPPENED
McCleary was injured during a game on Jan. 29 against the Flyers. He attempted to block a slap shot by diving feet first in front of it, but in a freak accident, the puck hit him squarely in the throat. McCleary very quickly got to his feet and skated toward the trainer. Because the puck had collapsed his windpipe he could not breathe. He was carried off the ice, and lost consciousness while in the tunnel. He easily could have died that night, but he was rushed to a hospital, and had an emergency tracheostomy within 10 minutes of leaving the arena. He remained in critical condition before being upgraded to stable condition on Feb. 1.
McCleary is a 27-year-old journeyman center. He has played for three teams in four years, and has only played in 12 games this season. He was not drafted but signed as a free agent with the Ottawa Senators in 1992. He broke in at the NHL level during the 1996-1997 season, during which he scored 4 goals and collected 10 assists in 74 games. He was then traded, along with a draft pick, to Boston for left wing Shawn McEachern. He was born in Swift Current, Saskatchewan, Canada.
WHAT'S INVOLVED IN A FRACTURED LARYNX AND COLLAPSED LUNG?
The larynx was fractured due to direct trauma from a frozen puck. The larynx, otherwise known as the voicebox, is located in the front of the throat behind the "Adam's apple." He also suffered from a collapsed lung, which may have been a result of significant internal bleeding from the fracture, the huge amount of swelling, or his struggle for air during which he sucked so hard that he could have caused the injury. When a lung collapses, a portion of it fills with fluid and, as a result, cannot fill with air. The injury was quite serious because the fracture led to a large amount of swelling and bleeding, and the air duct was obstructed.
The injury was simple to diagnose because McCleary was not breathing, was grabbing his neck, was blue around his neck, and had a mouth full of blood. In addition, there was immediate swelling around the neck wound.
Treatment began as he left the ice. First, the Montreal trainer removed his mouthguard so that McCleary would not choke on his own blood. Before he reached the hospital, the area was iced to lessen swelling, and the airway was kept open. Once at the hospital, McCleary received an emergency tracheostomy, a procedure in which doctors make an opening below the obstruction in the throat and insert a tube, allowing air to flow to the lungs. He also needed a thorocotomy, a procedure in which a tube is inserted into the chest to drain excess fluid. After the surgery, he was treated with supportive care. He would then need surgery to reconstruct the larynx, but that surgery is far less critical.
The injury, caused by a blunt trauma, cannot be avoided except by protecting the area. If McCleary, or any other NHL player, were willing to wear a protective neck shield, this injury would not occur. But given the fact that the injury is extraordinarily uncommon, players do not sacrifice comfort and flexibility for the added protection. Goalies, however, do wear a shield around their neck for protection.
McCleary can return to walking and daily life within a week or so, but he will need longer to recover to the point where he can again play hockey. The collapsed lung alone would keep him out for 4-6 weeks, and the fractured larynx alone would keep him out for about 3 months. Over that time, he will be regaining strength and lung capacity, as well as letting the larynx heal.
The injuries that McCleary suffered will in no way affect his physical ability to play hockey. However, his voice will likely be altered due to the injury.