Sabres' Kyle Okposo hospitalized in neurosurgical ICU with mysterious illness

Kyle Okposo, a forward for the Buffalo Sabres, is in the Neurosurgical Intensive Care Unit of a Buffalo hospital, undergoing tests for an undisclosed illness that coach Dan Bylsma said has him "very concerned."

Okposo, 28, has been ailing and undergoing tests since March 28. He entered Buffalo General Medical Center on Sunday and later was moved to the ICU, according to WIVB's Tom Martin.

"It's a difficult thing for him to be dealing with now in this situation," Bylsma said (via the Buffalo News) Wednesday. "Very, as a coach and a person, concerned for him and his situation."

WGR radio first reported that Okposo was in the NICU and on Wednesday night the Sabres issued a statement in which they said only: "Kyle continues to be under the care of our doctors as he deals with symptoms from an illness."

Okposo's agent has not responded to requests for comment and, when pressed for further information on the player's condition, the coach added that "he's sick and ill" and said he's "very concerned."

Okposo signed a seven-year, $42-million with the Sabres as an unrestricted free agent last summer after spending his first nine seasons in the NHL with the New York Islanders.

The Sabres, who have been eliminated from playoff contention, have two games left in the season.

The Sabres' Kyle Okposo awaits a face-off against the Coyotes on Feb. 26, 2017. (Christian Petersen / Getty Images)

Islanders players concerned for hospitalized ex-teammate Kyle Okposo

RALEIGH, N.C. — Kyle Okposo is a Sabre now, but his NHL roots still are deepest with the Islanders, for whom he played parts of nine seasons before leaving for Buffalo last summer.

So the news that he is in a Buffalo hospital with an undisclosed illness hit the Islanders hard.

“It’s tough,” Cal Clutterbuck said before Thursday night’s game against the Hurricanes. “I don’t know much more about it than anybody else. Obviously, the concern is just with him and his family. It’s a tough time. He’s got two young kids [ages 1 and 3] and a wife who’s obviously really concerned, as we all are.

“I think he’s in good hands and I think he’s going to be OK. You just keep thinking about him while he is going through it.”

The Buffalo News reported that as of Wednesday, Okposo was in the Neuro Surgical ICU at Buffalo General Hospital. He has been out of action since March 28.

“We’re praying for him,” Islanders coach Doug Weight said. “He’s a wonderful person. Certainly, this is a little more important than hockey . . . All you can do is shoot him a text and let his wife and him know that we’re thinking about him.

“He spent a lot of time here and we got to know him really well, not [only] as a player, but as a person. He’s a good man, and we wish him the best.”

Kulemin not ready to play yet
The Islanders had hoped to get Nikolay Kulemin back on the ice Thursday night, but Weight said Kulemin was not ready to go after practicing with the team on Wednesday.

Instead, Weight again planned to dress seven defensemen — technically — with Thomas Hickey set to serve as an emergency left wing because five forwards are out injured.

Hickey played the position for the first time as a pro on Tuesday, a game he won with a goal in overtime against the Predators.

Isles prepare for strategic playoff scenarios
The Islanders on Wednesday practiced creative strategic possibilities should their dire playoff situation call for it as events unfold elsewhere Thursday night.

For example: Under certain circumstances, an overtime victory might be needed because tiebreakers do not credit wins in shootouts.

So would pulling the goalie in overtime be an emergency move to ponder?

“I’ve included everything,” Weight said.

But he wants the coaches and staff, not the players, to think such thoughts.

“I’m not going to get it in guys’ heads,” he said. “It’s not going to be a theorem or a geometrical trig and secant and everything else. It’s going to be pretty cut and dried.”

Still, he wanted to do the relevant drills in advance so “it’s not just thrown at them like a ham sandwich,” Weight said. “They’re prepared for it.”

’Canes just want a win
Thursday is the Islanders’ third trip to PNC Arena this season in an eventful series, with the Hurricanes winning games 7-4, 5-4 (in OT) and 8-4 and the Islanders winning, 3-2 (in OT).

The Canes stormed into playoff contention with a 9-0-4 surge in March, but they entered the game against the Islanders with a three-game losing streak and no postseason hopes.

“We just need to get a win,” Carolina coach Bill Peters said before the game. “We haven’t won in a while there. Let’s see what that feels like once in a while.”

Peters was to start Eddie Lack over Cam Ward in goal, saying Ward was taking “a little maintenance day.”

Ladd’s fond Carolina memories
The Islanders are Andrew Ladd’s fifth NHL team. His first was Carolina, which drafted him in 2004 and for which he won a Stanley Cup in 2006.

“Every time you step on the ice and you see that banner up there it brings back a lot of really good memories,” he said.

Weight was a player on that Hurricanes team, too.

Questions, answers as Sabres' Kyle Okposo lands in neuro ICU

Kyle Okposo’s admittance to the neuro intensive care unit in Buffalo General Medical Center created concern in the Sabres’ dressing room and around the hockey world.

It also raised questions, including how serious is Okposo’s situation and what exactly is a neuro ICU?

Here is general information not specific to Okposo. The Sabres, who must abide by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and the NHL’s collective bargaining agreement, have said only that he is under the care of their doctors while dealing with symptoms of an illness.

Question: What is a neuro ICU?

Answer: A neuro intensive care unit comprises an area of the hospital devoted to a team of specially trained physicians, nurses, therapists and other professionals. They are outfitted with equipment to assess, monitor and treat patients with disorders or injuries of the brain or spinal cord.

A neuro ICU is generally found only in large, major medical centers. It is reserved for the most seriously ill or injured patients. The staff must manage extremely complicated conditions with risks of death or disability that often require experts from multiple medical disciplines to diagnose and treat.

Q: Why would a patient be admitted to the neuro ICU?

A: Stroke, either from a blockage in an artery in the brain or a rupture from a hemorrhage, is a common disorder that lands patients in the units. But neuro ICUs also care for an array of other issues, including epilepsy, brain infections such as meningitis and encephalitis, degenerative disorders like Parkinson's disease, and brain tumors.

Q: Why can’t the Sabres say more?

A: The federal HIPPA rules set boundaries on the use and release of health records. It establishes safeguards that health care providers and others must achieve to protect the privacy of health information. Also, it holds violators accountable with civil and criminal penalties that can be imposed if they violate patients’ privacy rights.

Q: But NHL coaches give injury updates all the time. Why not with this illness?

A: Article 34 of the collective bargaining agreement between the NHL and the players’ union deals with the players’ medical health. It defines what can and cannot be shared.

The teams, league and NHL Players’ Association may disclose medical information that is “reasonably required for professional sports operations and related to the player's employment as an NHL hockey player.”

For anything not defined as an injury (which would be the case with Okposo), the parties may only publicly disclose that a “medical and/or health condition is preventing the player from rendering services to the club." They can also announce the anticipated length of the player's absence.

The Sabres have said Okposo will miss the rest of the season, which concludes with two games this weekend.

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