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McCleary out of danger

Published Sep. 26, 2005

Canadiens forward faces surgery to repair fractured larynx but is able to write teammates an inspirational note.

Trent McCleary, who came within minutes of dying after being hit in the throat by a slap shot, felt well enough Sunday to write a note to his Canadiens teammates.

"Doing great, everybody," read the message delivered by team doctor David Mulder. "Here's $500 on the board for the win. I'll be listening. Battle hard. Go Habs."

His teammates obliged with a 3-0 win against Carolina.

"I was really putting pressure on myself to play well for him," goalie Jose Theodore said. "I didn't want to let him down after hearing his words of encouragement and knowing that he'd be watching."

McCleary is unable to speak but he no longer is in danger of dying, Mulder said Sunday. He is recovering from a fractured larynx and collapsed lung.

Doctors expect him to spend at least a week in hospital, but it is not clear if he will play again.

The 27-year-old McCleary had an emergency tracheotomy Saturday after being hit flush on the throat on a shot from Philadelphia's Chris Therien.

Ear, nose and throat specialists will decide today whether they should operate immediately on his larynx or wait several days for the swelling to subside. McCleary might be left with a raspy voice.

The only NHL player to die from a game injury was Bill Masterton, whose head struck the ice in 1968. Mulder said McCleary came close to dying.

"It was a matter of seconds," Mulder said. "If we had been held up along the way "

McCleary helped himself by skating to the bench. He gestured to his throat that he couldn't breathe before he collapsed and went unconscious.

Mulder was at the boards, and associate Dr. David Fleiszer, a spectator, rushed to help.

When they couldn't get a breathing tube down the player's throat, McCleary was placed in an ambulance for a five-minute ride.

Mulder and Fleiszer gave him an oxygen mask and tilted McCleary's head during the trip to let air into his body.

Dr. Vincent Lacroix had called ahead, so hospital staff had an elevator waiting and an operating room ready. A senior anesthesiologist was on duty.

Mulder performed the tracheotomy _ a hole cut into the base of the throat that opens an air passage _ and ran a tube to reinflate the right lung.

"It's the first operation I've done where I looked down afterwards and the patient still had skates on," Mulder said.

McCleary parents were watching the game at home in Saskatchewan. His mother was worried that the loss of oxygen might have caused brain damage. Mulder said that was unlikely.

"He has the same sense of humor as before," Mulder said.

The doctor said McCleary was able to recognize general manager Rejean Houle when he visited. McCleary also listened to coach Alain Vigneault by cell phone.