It’s been almost nine months since Brent Sutter feared for his son’s well-being, as 32-year-old Brandon struggled mightily through the effects of COVID-19.
Dad’s COVID concerns have been heightened lately by his son’s ongoing battle to return to health, let alone the Vancouver Canucks lineup.
And now, Brent’s 63-year-old brother and Brandon’s uncle, Calgary Flames coach Darryl Sutter, has COVID.
“It worries me whenever anybody gets it, especially when you have a son who has gone through it,” said Brent while on his way to watch the Red Deer Rebels, which he owns.
“Seeing what he had to go through, that was a tough thing.
“At least with vaccines it gives you some protection, as there’s a much higher chance you won’t get severely ill with it.
“Talking to Darryl, so far nobody with the Flames has been severely ill.”
The Flames confirmed Thursday that some of the sequencing from early tests have confirmed several players have the Omicron variant, which is hardly shocking considering the speed in which a total of 30 Flames players and staffers have become infected since Saturday.
And while the short-term ramifications involve seeing the league postpone four Flames games through Saturday, one of the many unknowns is how this could affect players long-term.
In Brandon’s case, the effects have been so severe, his career has been put on hold.
“Right now they won’t let him work out,” said Brent, whose son has yet to play a game this season.
“He’s got long-haulers. His heart was racing on him this summer. He said he felt dizzy and had a hard time getting air.
“He’s feeling better, but until all the blood results are normal, he can’t start working out because they don’t want to set him back again.”
Brandon’s initial COVID-19 diagnosis came in March, when 21 Canucks players tested positive for the P.1 (Gamma) variant, immediately confining many of the players to bed with a wide range of ailments.
Brandon dealt with severe flu-like symptoms, such as headaches, fever, sweating, body aches, sore throat and fatigue.
His pregnant wife and their two young kids also got COVID, but fared much better.
“He was one sick pup,” said Brent.
“We were really worried about him mentally because it does a number on you when you can’t do anything.”
He recovered in time to join the Canucks for their return mid-April, lasting eight games before missing the balance of the season.
He felt OK through parts of the summer before the complications arose, prompting doctors to run various tests to determine if he was dealing with pericarditis, which is inflammation around the sac of the heart, sometimes brought on by COVID.
Still, no definitive answers.
“A few things started creeping up in July, and then in August when he started cranking it up, it got so bad he couldn’t really walk around the block,” said Brent, who recently visited Brandon and his young family of five in Vancouver.
“So they tell you to simply rest.
“They said to Brandon, ‘You won’t start seeing improvement until the eighth month.’”
It has already been that long.
Will some of the more than 20 per cent of NHL players who have entered the league’s COVID-19 protocol this season experience similar ailments down the road?
That remains to be seen, as the scenario is much different this time.
The major difference between what Brandon went through compared to what the Flames are going through, is that he, and his teammates, didn’t have the luxury of being double-vaccinated, as 99 per cent of current NHLers are.
“The vaccinations are obviously critical,” said Brent.
“They’re saying booster shots are critical too. At least if you get symptoms, it keeps you from getting really sick.”
Brent’s Rebels made headlines last season when the players were housed in the team’s arena suites.
The rink will soon act as co-host for the World Junior Hockey Championships, starting Boxing Day, when Sweden and Russia clash at the Centrium, bringing a whole new set of COVID concerns for the longtime Islanders forward.
The five teams that will play Group B games in his barn arrived in Red Deer Wednesday.
“It’s not a bubble, but it kind of is as they’re only supposed to go from the rink to the hotel,” said Brent, whose facility requires proof of double vaccination.
“It’s pretty tight, and rightly so. It has to be.
“Hockey Canada will do everything it can to make sure these players and teams can be protected as best they can. That’s all you can ask for.”
That, and a healthy recovery for his son, brother and everyone else threatened by the ongoing pandemic.