March 20, 2023
On anniversary of his death, former NHL player Marek Svatos' wife says he has CTE -

On anniversary of his death, former NHL player Marek Svatos’ wife says he has CTE –

Marek Svatos, who played portions of eight NHL seasons and ran for Slovakia at the Torino 2006 Olympics, was suffering from the degenerative brain disease chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) at the time of his death in 2016.

Svatos’ wife Diana confirmed his posthumous diagnosis in a series of interviews with TSN. Diana – who said the date of her husband’s death had been misreported online – wanted to speak publicly about the life and death of Svatos because she says it was more complicated than media reports made it out to be.

Svatos died on November 4, 2016 at the age of 34 at his home in Lone Tree, Colorado. A coroner reported that Svatos had codeine, morphine and anti-anxiety medication in his system when he died, The Denver Post reported at the time. His official cause of death was an accidental overdose, Diana said.

Diana recounted how her husband suffered at least half a dozen documented concussions and at least as many surgeries during his NHL career after being drafted by Colorado in the seventh round of the 2001 Entry Draft.

“I wanted to put my kids in a good place before I talk about this, but I want people to know that Marek was a good person who loved his family and made decisions about CTE not because he was a bad person.” said Diana. “I don’t know how many times I’ve heard him say ‘the lights went out’ after he had a concussion. I’ve heard it often enough to remember that phrase.”

Diana and Svatos met in Denver in 2004 during his NHL rookie season and married in 2007.

“Marek was never comfortable being the center of attention,” Diana said. “He hated the limelight. If he had a great game, he would basically ask the media to interview anyone but him. He was the kind of guy who liked to laugh and play practical jokes, usually in front of me. He said goodbye and left the house to go to the rink for practice, then drove around the block and parked before coming back in and trying to scare me to death. He was always watching, always with his signature mischievous grin on his face.”

After donating her husband’s brain to Boston University researchers days after his death, Diana received a three-page pathology report on November 12, 2017 that showed Marek had stage 2 CTE. (There are four phases.)

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“One of the main reasons I want to tell this story now is because I want to help other NHL families.”

“Although stage 2 is considered a mild form of CTE, it is often characterized by noticeable mood and behavior changes and sometimes memory loss,” wrote neuropathologist Dr. Ann McKee of Boston University in an email to TSN. “Mr. Svatos suffered from severe depression and memory loss that began at the age of 25 and worsened over time…”

Svatos’ posthumous CTE diagnosis is notable as he was known as a goalscorer and playmaker. A winger whose career best penalty minutes was 60 in a season.

Researchers believe that CTE stems not only from concussions that can be sustained during a match on the ice, but also from the repeated blows to the head and concussive body checks that routinely occur during a game.

CTE can only be diagnosed posthumously. The degenerative brain disease is associated with symptoms such as personality changes, memory loss and bursts of impulses. It has been discovered in athletes, military veterans, and others with a history of repeated blows to the head.

Diana said the CTE diagnosis helped her understand some of her husband’s behaviors. She said he would get agitated and forgetful easily.

“I’m not talking about forgetting to take out the trash,” she said. “I’m talking about having a conversation with him and he comes back five seconds later and says, ‘What did we talk about?’ This would happen three times in a row. It was to the extreme.”

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“He had concussions and all this pain and it all just kind of came together perfectly in what was a terrible storm for him.”

At the same time as he was navigating the symptoms associated with repeated brain injuries, Svatos developed an addiction to the oxycodone, which he was given by both the team and independent doctors to help him recover from a series of injuries, said his wife.

“He’s picked a habit,” Diana said. “He had concussions and all this pain and it all just kind of came together perfectly in what was a terrible storm for him.”

Diana said a few months before his death that Svatos informed her that he had been using heroin to relieve his pain and that he had attempted suicide. Svatos went to rehab three times to try to overcome his addiction.

“He didn’t do that to himself or his family and people need to know that. You need to know his full story,” Diana said. “One of the main reasons I want to share this story now is because I want to help other NHL families.

“I say this out of love, but the league can do more for players during and after their careers. When guys go into rehab, the league can track them and their wives to see how things are going. And they can still try to do their job better by helping players prepare for what happens after their hockey careers. These guys train their whole lives to be a pro hockey player, then it’s over, and then they and their families get in trouble. Being honest about how big the problem is would be a good first step for the NHL.”

Svatos also played for Slovakia at junior world tournaments in 2000 and 2002 and took part in the 2010 World Championships. He scored 100 goals and had 72 assists in 344 NHL games. He played for the Avalanche, Nashville Predators and Ottawa Senators before retiring from pro football in Slovakia.

Of the 14 former NHL players whose brains were examined by researchers, 13 were diagnosed with CTE.

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“I don’t know how many times I’ve heard him say ‘the lights went out’ after he had a concussion. I’ve heard it often enough to remember that phrase.”

McKee, director of Boston University’s CTE Center, said she is currently examining the brains of other former NHL players and will provide more updates on the prevalence of CTE in hockey players within about six months.

NHL players diagnosed with CTE include Ralph Backstrom, Stan Mikita, Steve Montador, Todd Ewen, Bob Probert and Rick Martin. Former Toronto Maple Leaf Kurt Walker is the only former NHL player to test negative.

If CTE can eventually be diagnosed in living patients, researchers could begin medical trials to see if certain drugs can be effective in slowing or stopping the damage caused by the disease.

The NHL has not publicly acknowledged a link between head injuries while playing hockey and long-term cognitive impairment. A spokesman for the league did not respond to a request for comment.

The NHL announced an $18.9 million settlement in November 2018 involving 318 former players who joined a lawsuit accusing the league of downplaying the long-term dangers of repeated brain trauma.

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