NHL veteran Brandon Sutter says he is still suffering from symptoms of long Covid a year after he first contracted the virus and is unsure when he will be able to return to the ice.
Sutter was one of 21 Vancouver Canucks players to catch Covid during an outbreak among the team in March 2021, before a vaccine for the virus was widely available in Canada. He recovered sufficiently to play towards the end of last season but during the summer of 2021 he experienced a raised heart rate and breathing difficulties that felt “like someone was sitting on my chest”.
The 33-year-old’s symptoms were serious enough that he was unable to play when the season started in October but by last month he started to practice again. However, he soon suffered a setback and he has not skated since early April.
“Thought I was getting better after Christmas and started training again, started skating again and was kind of optimistic about returning at some point this season,” he told Sportsnet on Tuesday. “When I started skating more and ramping up my training to the level you’ve got to to be an athlete in this league, I just kind of went backwards a little bit.
“I’m always hopeful to get back as soon as I can and doing all we can to correct it. It’s just been dealing with immune system stuff, which a lot of people who are going through it at home too, have had what they’re calling ‘long Covid’ stuff. It’s not a lot of fun.”
One recent study suggested that long Covid is associated with more than 200 symptoms, from brain fog to heart palpitations, and experts are still struggling to come up with effective treatments. Another study, by the American Medical Association, estimated that up to 30% of people who catch catch the virus may show symptoms of long Covid after they have recovered from the initial infection. Sutter said the most frustrating aspect of his illness is being unsure when he will recover.
“Being out all year like this, watching the guys, is tough,” he said. “I want to get back as soon as I can … You’re just waiting for answers. You break a bone, you have a broken leg or a knee problem, or a shoulder or something, you go ‘OK, we got six weeks, we got eight weeks, we got 10 weeks, and we’re back to normal.’ This has just been dragging on and dragging on.”
Sutter said one consolation was having more time to spend with his family, after his wife Giselle gave birth to their third child last summer.
“At least you go home to your family and I’ve been able to be around or our baby girl and our other two kids the whole time, so it’s been a bit of a blessing,” he said.
Sutter was drafted in the first round of the NHL draft in 2007 and played for the Carolina Hurricanes and Pittsburgh Penguins before joining the Canucks in 2015.