July 16, 2009
The investigation into the death of New York Rangers prospect Alexei Cherepanov after an Avangard Omsk game in the KHL on Oct. 13, 2008 has led to the exoneration of Omsk team doctors, according to a federal Investigative Committee in Russia.
The crux of their findings is that the doctors had not detected, and Cherepanov never disclosed, that the 19 year old suffered from a heart condition called chronic myocarditis and that Cherepanov was self-medicating. From the AP:
Doctors had no way of knowing about Cherepanov's condition, according to the statement -- which seemed to lay more blame on Cherepanov than anyone else. The committee said medical experts suspect Cherepanov felt unwell because of his condition but hid the fact from team doctors for fear of being pulled from games.
"Avangard team doctors not only could not have diagnosed Cherepanov with chronic myocarditis while he was living, but could not have even suspected it," the statement said. It said detailed annual checkups since 2002 revealed no heart or circulation problems.
In December, the Investigative Committee said medical experts had concluded from analysis of blood and urine samples that Cherepanov "engaged in doping" for several months before his death. But Thursday's statement said he had been taking cordiaminum, which apparently stimulates circulation and breathing as well as the central nervous system, suggesting he may have been taking it to treat his condition.
Looking back at this tragedy, the speculative slander that was tossed around is sickening; but, in the end, Cherepanov's loss has triggered some constructive changes.
We were as complicit as anyone else in passing along fast-moving information from across the globe when Cherepanov died. Like the report that initially implicated teammate Jaromir Jagr(notes) in some sort of accidental collision with Cherepanov; a rumor that was quickly dispelled.
Then came a disturbing and repulsive video that showed Cherepanov collapsed on the bench (graphic video warning) and subsequently carried away without a stretcher. This led to questions of negligence regarding the KHL, with some hockey commentators in North America going as far as to claim that no NHL players would move to the Russian league again after the tragedy. (A overreaction then, made completely irrelevant in the following year.)
The medical equipment, procedures and response by the KHL to Cherepanov in the arena were scrutinized, and the KHL responded with sweeping changes to their emergency response regulations. It was a proactive, reputation-mending move for the league.
As the same time, Cherepanov's reputation was coming under attack with posthumous doping charges that spread quickly through the hockey world; suddenly, a victim of circumstance was victim of self-destruction. But the story twisted again when the "doping" turned out to be cordiaminum, which can be used for performance enhancement or to help with circulatory ailments. Later reports would pinpoint that Cherepanov was using it primarily for self-medication.
Meanwhile, the KHL tossed gasoline on the fire by suspending four doctors and team officials for their "criminal negligence" in Cherepanov's death. Now, via this investigation, at least some of the suspended may be exonerated in failing to treat Cherepanov's condition in the months leading up to his death.
In the end, everyone involved shares some of the blame, but not the totality of it. Read more from The Rangers Tribune.
It's a sickening tragedy on so many levels, but in hindsight there's no question some good came out of it. The fledgling KHL got a harsh lesson in the necessity of adequate medical response on-site for games; the league adapted, and will be better for it. But just as important is the committee's finding that Cherepanov didn't report his conditions to his physicians, who could have diagnosed and treated the ailment had he done so.
The lure of stardom and success in athletic competition is undeniable; but it shouldn't be a decision between life and death. We lost a bright young star in Alexei Cherepanov; hopefully, through his tragic loss, others will be saved.