Friday, October 17, 2008

Annotations on a Tragedy

At 10.55pm local time Monday night, 19 year old Alexei Cherepanov was pronounced dead. First round draft pick of the Rangers in 2007, hometown idol in Barnaul Siberia and adopted son of Omsk, the circumstances surrounding Alexei’s passing remain a mystery days after he collapsed on the Avangard Omsk bench during the third period of a road game in Chekhov. Regardless, as the news broke globally in the hours after the tragic event, indolent news editors across the world allowed conjecture to replace fact in the rush to report the youngster’s death and apportion blame.

 With official Russian sources awaiting substantial details regarding Cherepanov’s condition on Monday night, it was left to a network of Russian and European hockey bloggers to fill in the gaps as the rumor mill spun into action. Rapidly, inaccurate reports of a collision between Cherepanov and Jagr during a line change gained traction across the net and initial recounts were empowered with a headline grabbing name in the form of the ex-NHL legend. Seemingly the gravity of a young stars death was too lightweight as Chinese whispers exacerbated Jagr’s role in his protégés demise.  

 Within hours the portal of morbid curiosity that is YouTube had allayed the rambling accounts of Jagr’s responsibility in the terrible events despite reports to the contrary flooding the net. Meanwhile sunrise in North America was met with a number of reactionary and unsubstantiated reports lambasting the KHL in its part in the tragedy.

 Naturally genuine messages of condolence were being lost in the burgeoning superiority complex many an NHL commentator developed in the early hours. Of course there was blame to be apportioned, why had the ambulance in attendance been called away from the arena of Omsk’s opponents Vityaz Chekhov mid game? And why, following the death of Sergei Zholtok in the lockout season due to heart failure, had the KHL and Vityaz Chekhov deigned to not have a defibrillator on scene? With a governmental inquiry in full swing, theories, constructive criticism and derogatory remarks made uncomfortable bed fellows throughout forums and comment boxes. It was clear that a duty of care had not been met.

 With the KHL created as a flagship to display all that was great about Russian hockey and its proud national heritage, the league along with Russian hockey fans were reeling over their own tragic loss. With figures such as Igor Larionov and Gazprom deputy chairman of the board of executive directors Alexander Medvedev behind the venture, the reaction was quick to head off the tidal wave of negligence being directed at them, instantaneously launching a full scale investigation into the causes of Cherepanov’s death.

 Throughout, the tales of desperation on the part of both Omsk and Chekhov staff and doctors who tried and successfully resuscitated the young star a number of times whilst awaiting the ambulance were paling to a cavalcade of misinformation. Instead bloggers and hacks were now in mid debate regarding what particular ailment had struck the young star down. Like sitcom doctors scrambling for an adlib, chronic ischemia was diagnosed in the initial report of Yulia Zhukova, the Moscow regional investigator. In much the same way as the Jagr connection had been made early on, the quick uptake of erroneous information was once more applied to an ever more skewed version of events.

 As it stood Cherepanov had been felled by an easily detected and career ending blood condition that reduces the blood flow through the arteries and subsequently to the organs causing complete organ or heart failure and had been treated with abject levels of health care at the Ice Hockey Centre. Taking into account the extreme rarity of any 19 year old elite athlete demonstrating symptoms of any type of ischemia, let alone acute or chronic, TSN columnist Bob McKenzie was quick to weigh in on the debate alongside Dr. Anthony Colucci, the doctor who saved Jiri Fischer’s life when he collapsed on the Detroit Red Wings bench in 2005 after suffering cardiac arrest. Pointing to the purported cause of death, Colucci was quick to note the miniscule likelihood of chronic ischemia felling a young athlete.


I would say it’s highly unusual, virtually unheard of, for an elite 19-year-old athlete to have chronic ischemia.

 Instead autopsy reports conducted at the request of the KHL investigation suggested that Cherepanov’s heart weighed over 70% the expected weight at 495 grams over the usual 290. This would suggest Hypertrophic Cardio Myopathy more commonly known as HCM or “Sudden Death Syndrome” where the hearts wall is thickened causing ventricular fibrillation in some cases of physical stress. This would explain how the Omsk doctor Sergei Belkin and Vityaz doctor Igor Spasovkhodsky managed to resuscitate Cherepanov and maintain a level of consciousness using CPR, but were unable to get the heart operating normally in the way an electronic shock from a defibrillator could have.

Regardless, somewhere along the way the tragic loss of a young man and future star either in Russia or the NHL was misplaced in an increasingly farcical debate. Even as rendering expressions of grief surrounded the coffin of Cherepanov as he was taken from the Avangard Omsk arena on Wednesday to the cemetery in Omsk where, despite being 400 miles from home, was the location his family had wanted him to be interred so he could be by his fans. Tactless debates still raged about whether Cherepanov would have been revived had he collapsed on an NHL bench.

 It’s a shame indicative of modern journalism that such a debate is even addressed, but with the NHL eyeing the KHL as an inter continental rival to its own supremacy , especially in its verdant European market, such chances at taking low blows could not be missed. Yet despite the finger pointing, the NHL and its writers have seemingly forgotten that sometimes lessons have to be learned the hardest way. After all, as Puck Daddy noted on his Yahoo blog, behind goal meshing was only installed as a reaction to the Brittanie Cecil tragedy, yet only in hindsight was the initiative so obvious.

In the same way the KHL has learnt the hardest way that not only can it not compete with the NHL on the ice, but that it cannot hope to compete with its duty of care until glaring oversights are overcome. In the same way, we as hockey bloggers or writers have a duty of care both to the reputation of the game and those who participate. Whilst blogging is a brilliant way to increase our experience as fans, we now live in an age where Joe Public can be the initiator of a news flash and that reckless misinterpretation can cause distress and harm at a time of great tragedy. From all the reports that have made up the terrible story of Alexei Cherepanov’s death, perhaps the most poignant is the image of a maligned Jaromir Jagr, still dressed in uniform, calling out to the young player he had taken under his wing to “wake up” as the ambulance rushed him to a Moscow hospital.

RIP Alexei. Lest we forget.        

1 comment:

Brooklyn Hockey Boy said...

Hey, great article. I definitely agree that all the debates over different aspects are pointless; the fact remains that a young man is dead, and there is little to be done for him personally now. The only thing that should be getting any talk is that the KHL needs defibrillators, among other medical upgrades, and it needs them ASAP.

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