A 19-year-old hockey player trying out for a spot on the new Collingwood Colts Jr. A team ended up needing life-saving surgery this weekend.
Alexander Cordeiro, who came to Collingwood from Vaughan for a tryout weekend at Central Park Arena, ruptured his spleen in a mid-ice collision during a tryout Saturday.
He required emergency surgery to salvage the organ – which had split into three pieces – and two blood transfusions to make up for the blood that had pooled in his abdomen from the internal bleeding.
Cordeiro said he was skating toward an opponent on open ice going in for a hit. He called it a routine hit, but his left elbow dug into the bottom of his rib cage. He felt pain, but got up on his own and returned to the bench.
“I kept feeling pain, and I couldn’t breathe properly,” said Cordeiro from his hospital bed. “I was out of it. I couldn’t stand up, I thought my ribs were broken.”
One of the Collingwood Colts coaching staff, Chris Grolla, who is a registered kinesiologist and athletic therapist, was called over to assess Cordeiro.
“It didn’t make sense because it didn’t seem like a rib issue, but that’s where a majority of his pain was located,” said Grolla. “Then things began to get worse.”
Grolla noticed some fluctuations in vital signs, increased pain, rigidity on the left side of his abdomen, and watched Cordeiro get pale as the minutes passed.
“I was gasping for air,” said Cordeiro. “My left side was killing me, and I didn’t want to open my eyes.”
Grolla identified signs of shock and knew Cordeiro needed emergency medical attention.
“Your body going into shock is a way of protecting yourself from further injury - shock is a life-threatening condition, it’s a medical emergency. You need attention quickly,” said Grolla.
Grolla made the call to send Cordeiro to the hospital. Another coach drove Cordeiro down the road to the Collingwood General and Marine Hospital where an emergency room doctor saw him right away.
“I still had no idea what was going on,” said Cordeiro. “But I could feel liquid in my gut moving around.”
Within an hour, Cordeiro was in surgery for a ruptured spleen. Since the organ is regenerative, the surgery included a surgeon gathering the pieces together in a medical “bag” that dissolves sort of like internal stitches. The bag allows the spleen to repair itself before disintegrating.
In some cases, the spleen is so damaged it cannot be salvaged. While a person can live without a spleen, it’s important for the body’s immune system.
The surgery was done by the medical team at Collingwood General and Marine Hospital. The team was able to salvage Cordeiro’s spleen.
Cordeiro’s mom, Sandra Cordeiro, said she wasn’t able to attend his tryouts, though she usually makes every game. When she got the call, she came from Vaughan to Collingwood and arrived in time for Cordeiro to wake up from his surgery.
“I think he couldn’t have been in a better place,” said Sandra. “The doctors were absolutely amazing. Everybody has been so good.”
She also praised the coaching staff for the Collingwood Colts for getting Cordeiro to the hospital when they did.
Grolla said he made the call to send Cordeiro to the hospital within 15 minutes of the on-ice collision. By the time he was in surgery, there were 2.5 litres of blood pooled in his abdomen.
Cordeiro said he probably would have gone to the hospital on his own eventually, but it was the coaching staff of the Colts who pushed him to get there right away.
“All he thinks about is hockey,” said Sandra. “He called his brother and said he was at the hospital and they were going to fix him for the second game.”
In fact, Cordeiro won’t be able to play contact sports for the next six months.
He’s coming off one of his best seasons as a skater with the Schomberg Cougars Junior C team where he earned Rookie of the Year and team MVP. He’s a forward/right winger and said he’ll be back at hockey as soon as possible.
He’s hoping to be back for the second half of the 2019/2020 season.
Sandra said the experience has pushed her to encourage other hockey players to get assessed when they’ve been involved in a collision that leaves them in pain.
“It’s better to be safe than sorry,” she said. “Even if you’ve punctured an organ, it’s not a rupture, but it’s a slow leak. You’re still bleeding out.”
Grolla said internal injuries should be a concern for hockey players and their families because the injury is, as it’s called, internal and therefore hard to spot.
“Often times an internal injury like that is overlooked,” said Grolla. “It’s hard to detect, you can’t really see it, and it’s tough to tell exactly to what degree someone is injured.”
He encourages all hockey players, and athletes in contact sports, to speak up when they’re experiencing pain or when something feels off.
“If something doesn’t seem right, seek attention. Internal injuries can hide, they don’t have a tendency to present themselves. You don’t always know,” he said. “Err on the side of caution.”
Cordeiro's emergency surgery has also prompted Sandra to encourage people to donate blood if they are eligible. He received two blood transfusions as a result of his injury.
“I’m telling everyone to give blood,” said Sandra.Visit blood.ca to book an appointment and find out more about your eligibility.