‘I never once thought I was going to die’: Former Canuck Gino Odjick talks about his remarkable recovery
When former Vancouver Canucks player Gino Odjick was diagnosed with a rare terminal disease in 2014, his prognosis was not very good.
Without him knowing, a condition known as AL amyloidosis had been literally hardening Odjick’s heart by coating it in abnormal protein deposits.
He eventually suffered a heart attack, but the doctors could not figure out what caused it. He was released from hospital, but his condition was not getting better. In fact, it kept getting worse.
Then in June of 2014, doctors at the Vancouver General Hospital (VGH) finally handed him the devastating diagnosis.
He went in for an experimental treatment in Ottawa with his heart functioning at just 20 per cent of its normal capacity, but Odjick says he knew all along he would not lose the most important fight of his life.
The news of his condition sent shock waves through the hockey world. His fans came out in droves in front of the Vancouver General Hospital, where Odjick was being treated, to show their support.
Despite his waning strength, Odjick somehow found the energy to come out and greet his fans.
But little did the crowd know that shortly before that, Odjick’s heart flat-lined for almost a minute.
“They told me to get ready for my demise and do my will,” he said. “It did not look good there for a while.”
AL amyloidosis is a rare disease with only 1,200 to 3,200 new cases reported each year in the United States. The clinical course of AL amyloidosis is usually associated with rapid disease progression and the involvement of multiple organs.
With no history of heart disease in his family, Odjick’s condition literally came out of nowhere.
“I was working out three to four times a week. I was going out and living the full life. And then boom, this happens.”
But nearly three years down the road, Odjick says he is in remission and feeling good.
His heart is now working at 60 per cent of its capacity and — much to the surprise of his doctors — that vital percentage keeps climbing.
“They were telling me that I was going home to die [after the treatment in Ottawa], but I always thought that I was coming back,” Odjick said.
It’s that refusal to concede and his stubbornness to live that Odjick credits with helping him survive.
“I never once thought I was going to die. I thought I could beat it,” he said. “I did not want to believe it.”
Odjick says seeing his fans in front of VGH gave him a big boost as well.
“I was just amazed at how many people were there for me,” he said. “It was a special day, that’s for sure. I just did not want to feel sorry for myself.”
As to what the future has in store for him, 46-year-old Odjick says his prognosis is good, but his condition can return any time.
He continues his recovery in Vancouver and still goes in for monthly check-ups.
But things are definitely looking up — after the life-saving treatment, Odjick says his legs stopped swelling up, he has gained weight and has way more energy than before.
And just like during his NHL years, he is going to keep the fight going.
“I am still here,” said Odjick. “And I don’t take things for granted anymore.”
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