Cody Hodgson is playing hockey again after retiring eight years ago

MILWAUKEE — The health problems that kept former NHL forward Cody Hodgson away from hockey eight years ago were scary enough to make him fear the worst.

He often trembled. His body felt unusually hot. He had an abnormal heartbeat. He found it difficult to breathe. Examinations revealed that his liver and kidney were damaged.

“Back then, they tested me for brain cancer, liver cancer, lung cancer – all that stuff,” said Hodgson, who played six seasons with the Vancouver Canucks (2010-12), Buffalo Sabers (2012-15) and Nashville Predators (2015 -16).

Instead, Hodgson was diagnosed with malignant hyperthermia, which is linked to a mutation in the RYR1 gene, which helps muscle contraction. The condition can cause high body temperature, rapid heart rate and/or muscle cramps.

Hodgson’s case also involved episodes of rhabdomyolysis, which involved severe muscle breakdown, leading to organ damage and possible death. Hodgson was prescribed dantrolene, a drug that suppressed symptoms but also left him too sleepy to compete.

He stopped playing hockey. He was 26.

“They said to avoid prolonged physical activity, avoid contact sports, avoid going from hot to cold and cold to hot – basically the job description for the National Hockey League,” Hodgson said.

Somehow, Hodgson is doing better and is back playing hockey eight years later with the AHL’s Milwaukee Admirals as he pursues an unlikely return to the NHL. He’s already made an even more improbable comeback by even getting back on the ice.

Michael Goldberg is CEO of the RYR-1 Foundation, which supports research to find a treatment or cure for RYR-1-related diseases. Goldberg said he was not aware of any other examples of athletes competing at the professional level after receiving a diagnosis similar to Hodgson’s eight years ago.

“We’re interested in potentially doing a case report on him because it’s so unusual that he had such a severe manifestation of this disease and then came back and was essentially asymptomatic,” Goldberg said. “What lessons can you take from this lesson and apply to other people suffering from a similar condition?”

After leaving the NHL, Hodgson said he kept his hockey gear for about five years. He stayed in touch with the game by working with the Predators in overseeing youth development, which essentially consisted of teaching hockey to children throughout the Southeast.

Then last summer he felt noticeably better.

His symptoms disappeared even when he reduced the dosage of his medication to negligible levels. He obtained medical reports as to whether a comeback was feasible.

“I went back to the same doctors who told me I couldn’t play because it would kill me, and I got the green light from them to keep playing,” Hodgson said.

Hodgson, now 34, lost about 40 pounds to get back to his playing weight of 190 and began making calls shortly after Christmas to gauge potential interest from teams. He landed with the Admirals, the Predators’ AHL affiliate, on a professional tryout contract offered to unsigned players to showcase their skills.

“I just had a sneaking feeling that this was the right thing to do,” said Scott Nichol, general manager of the Admirals and director of player development for the Predators. “He didn’t go out the way he wanted to go out. He got the love back. He is healthy. When I spoke to him on the phone, you could feel the energy in his voice and how excited he was just to get the opportunity to practice.”

Hodgson only had to practice with them for a few weeks before the Admirals started playing him. He scored five goals in his first eight games. Hodgson said he feels great, thanks in part to his daily breathing exercises.

“I actually feel better now than I did my last game,” Hodgson said. “My body functions perfectly and my mechanics are great. Just mentally I need to get up to speed of the game, but physically I feel better than when I played in the NHL.”

His case has inspired people dealing with similar issues. Goldberg says Hodgson was happy to share his story and cell phone number with other people suffering from this type of illness.

When Hodgson scored his first goal for the Admirals in a road win over the Chicago Wolves, he took time out after the game to meet a young girl suffering from a different type of RYR1-related illness and pass a puck to her sign.

Hodgson hopes his comeback will provide encouragement to anyone struggling with the symptoms he struggled with a few years ago.

“It’s a nice motivating factor,” said Hodgson. “The goal is of course to play in the National Hockey League, but it’s nice to be a role model for others too.”

Have any Question or Comment?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *