Ex-Detroit Red Wings goalie Manny Legace details COVID-19 ordeal: ‘I was extremely afraid’

Detroit Free Press

Manny Legace stopped thousands of shots for six seasons as a goalie for the Detroit Red Wings — including during the team’s 2002 Stanley Cup championship run — but he wasn’t prepared for the blow the coronavirus dealt him.

Legace, 48, now the goaltending coach for the Columbus Blue Jackets, grew teary talking about the ordeal during a news conference Thursday.

He was hospitalized in the intensive care unit at Henry Ford Macomb Hospital earlier this month, when the virus made it hard for him to breathe and he developed blood clots in his lungs.

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“I was extremely afraid,” he said. “I was very lucky to make a lot of saves in my career, but Henry Ford Macomb made the biggest save of my life.”

Legace, who had yet to get a COVID-19 vaccine when he contracted the virus in mid-August, said he and his wife, Giana, had both followed the same pattern of symptoms initially.

But when they were at their home in Novi over Labor Day weekend, her cough and breathing had begun to improve while Legace’s grew worse.

He didn’t think it was a big deal.

“I’m not going to the hospital for a cough,” he said he told her.

A friend suggested she get a pulse oximeter, which could clip to Legace’s finger to check his blood-oxygen levels. It registered 83% — too low.

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She called the physician for the Blue Jackets, who called Dr. Anthony Colucci, medical director at Henry Ford Macomb Hospital’s emergency department. He advised the Legaces to get to the emergency room.

As they made the roughly 50-minute drive to Macomb County, Legace was convinced Colucci would say he’s fine, and it’s just a cough.

“I’m stubborn,” he said, “like to a fault. Obviously, it almost cost me my life.”

Colucci was very concerned when he saw Legace that day.

“When I walked him back, immediately put a pulse oximeter on him, he was at 75%, which cannot sustain life for a period of time,” Colucci said. “His brain and his heart and other organs were deprived of oxygen.”

Legace needed high-flow supplemental oxygen and was on the brink of needing a ventilator.

“We initiated our COVID protocol, which includes a CAT scan, which showed evidence of the COVID pneumonia, along with bilateral blood clots, which does come along with the disease,” Colucci said.

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Legace was treated with the antiviral drug remdesivir and blood thinners to stop the clotting. During the course of his COVID-19 illness, he said he lost 30 pounds.

“For as bad as he was, … the scale could have tipped at any moment while he was struggling sitting up breathing,” Colucci said. “He could have been tipped over into pretty catastrophic cardiac event because of the low oxygenation. He dodged a bullet.”

Legace’s father has a history of blood clots, and he was hesitant about getting a COVID-19 vaccine before he caught the virus.

Now, he said, he’s ready to get a shot soon as his doctors recommend it.

Legace also is back on the ice with the Blue Jackets, working at training camp, though it hasn’t been easy.

“Today was probably the most I’ve done in a while, in about three, four weeks,” Legace said. “It’s our second day of camp and we had three ice sessions and I didn’t make the final session.

“I just basically stand there and tell everybody what to do so there’s really no exertion. … But there was a couple times, especially in this morning’s session, I had to go to the bench and just sit down and relax and then not push it.”

Still, he said, every day he feels some slight improvement.

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“It just seems like the lungs are starting to come back a little bit,” Legace said. “Still zero energy, still fighting, and the doc says it’s going to take … a while, but it’s coming back.”

Colucci said he hope is that Legace’s symptoms will continue to dissipate over time.

“Part of it is the deconditioning; what effect did it have on the pulmonary along with the blood clots and then the cardiac status. And we’ll be able to see as we move further and he’ll be able to tell us and we’ll get feedback, but the expectation is that he’s going to have a full recovery.

“This whole COVID thing is still pretty fresh to all of us and we’re just learning each day something new, but the expectation … is that he’ll get a full, complete recovery from the COVID.”

Legace has this advice for others: “This is not a joke disease. It really is not. And it’s something to take serious if you get it. If you have problems breathing, don’t hesitate. Don’t wait … to get into doctors’ hands.”

Contact Kristen Shamus: kshamus@freepress.com. Follow her on Twitter @kristenshamus. 

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