Eichel leads the way in NHL for disk replacement surgeries

Oct 31, 2022, 11:49 AM | Updated: 12:29 pm
FILE - Vegas Golden Knights center Jack Eichel speaks during a news conference after an NHL hockey ...

FILE - Vegas Golden Knights center Jack Eichel speaks during a news conference after an NHL hockey game against the Colorado Avalanche Wednesday, Feb. 16, 2022, in Las Vegas. Jack Eichel fought for the right to have a never-been-performed-on-an-NHL-player sort of neck surgery. The sharpshooting center for the Golden Knights by way of the Buffalo Sabres may be doing for backs/necks what Tommy John once did for the elbows of baseball pitchers — save careers. (AP Photo/David Becker, File)

(AP Photo/David Becker, File)

Jack Eichel argued and argued with his former team, and even with the league, for the right to undergo neck surgery that had never before been performed on an NHL player.

The procedure Eichel wanted — the one he expected to get him back on the ice in a fraction of the time over the more-accepted standard of fusion surgery — is called artificial disk replacement and he eventually got it.

Given the success it has brought the talented forward, it could very well be referred to by another name now: The Jack Eichel Surgery.

The sharpshooting center for Vegas by way of Buffalo may be doing for lower backs and necks what Tommy John once did for the elbows of baseball pitchers — save careers.

“A year ago nobody had had it, and now all of a sudden, three guys have had it,” said Eichel, who scored the overtime winner with seven seconds left Sunday as the Golden Knights moved to 8-2 atop the Western Conference. “It’s a more common injury than you think and it’s a good way to resolve that injury, so I’m happy that guys had the opportunity to do it.”

Others are already following his lead. Chicago forward Tyler Johnson underwent the procedure last December, and Philadelphia’s Joel Farabee had it in June.

The road to being a pioneer among his peers wasn’t exactly smooth for Eichel. He switched agents to Pat Brisson in August 2021, and yet the duo was still unable to convince Buffalo team physicians it was safe to insert an artificial disk into Eichel’s neck.

The reason for the reluctance: the question of whether the disk would hold up to the rigors of the league. No NHL player had ever had it before, and the Sabres also were hesitant to risk Eichel’s trade value.

ADR surgery isn’t new. Developed decades ago, it has been used on injured extreme athletes (think mountain bikers, big-wave surfers), military pilots and casual athletes just looking to swing a golf club or tennis racket pain-free again.

The surgery can put hockey players back in uniform in three months. With fusion surgery, where surgeons permanently connect two or more vertebrae, it can take six months or longer before a return, and could require follow-up procedures later in life.

Eichel did his homework and was insistent the ADR route was what he wanted. Frequently, teams acquiesce, but in this case there was built-up animosity between the two sides in what was an ugly divorce, with the Sabres holding the final say. One reason the NHL Players’ Association didn’t escalate it to a grievance was because the Sabres continued paying Eichel his contract while he was essentially waiting for a trade.

That came a year ago, when Eichel was dealt to Vegas on Nov. 4. Eight days later, he underwent ADR surgery. Three months after that, he skated nearly 18 minutes for the Golden Knights against the eventual Stanley Cup champion Colorado Avalanche.

“I give Jack a lot of credit for being a stubborn student of what he was going to do his body,” Brisson said. “He was patient, and he fought a pretty lengthy battle. He was very strong and paved the way.”

Eichel and Brisson endured mounds of red tape in order to get the surgery, which was performed by Dr. Chad Prusmack in Denver.

“At one point, it wasn’t about hockey. I just wanted him to get the surgery so he could continue to live his life,” Brisson explained. “It’s a personal choice, and that’s where we are with the issue.”

Over his 30-year career, neurological spine surgeon Dr. Robert Bray Jr. has performed many disk surgeries. The founding director of DISC Sports & Spine Center, Bray has helped everyone from that 60-year-old golfer who wants to play with friends to extreme sports standouts like big wave surfer Koa Rothman and now Johnson, who followed the lead of Eichel after years of chronic numbness and pain.

“I’ve seen very few things that were absolute game-changers,” Bray, a former goaltender at Colgate, said of ADR. “It’s great to be able to return someone’s passion.”

Eichel could become synonymous with ADR much like Tommy John with elbow surgeries. The left-handed pitcher’s career could’ve been over, but John had ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) reconstruction performed by Dr. Frank Jobe in 1974. Since his ground-breaking operation, Tommy John surgery has been overflowing with successful comeback stories ( see: Justin Verlander, who’s pitching for Houston in the World Series ).

Johnson conducted his own research as he watched Eichel’s situation. Johnson’s neck had been bothering him for years, with his offseason workouts all about managing the tingling and sharp pain he’d experience in his arm. He eventually talked to spine specialists about his options.

Last December, he had Bray perform the surgery, which involved a 1-inch incision and less than a teaspoon of blood loss. The outpatient procedure lasted approximately 70 minutes as Bray and his team inserted a titanium disk that bonded to the bone, with the center elastic portion of the disk acting as a shock absorber. The ruptured disk and bone spurs were removed. The implant restored normal joint motion, as opposed to sacrificing motion with a fusion.

Shortly after the procedure, Johnson was already walking around. No more tingling, either.

About eight days after that, he was skating again, with full mobility in his neck soon following. And three months post-operation, he was trying to get teammates to hit him — just to test his neck. No one volunteered.

So he crashed into the boards himself.

“Hard as I could just to test it out,” laughed Johnson. “No ill effects.”

Johnson returned to the ice last season, playing his first game post-surgery on March 3.

“Every day just kept getting better: your mobility kept getting better,” said Johnson, who was recently placed on injured reserve with an ankle injury. “It felt great.”

A word of caution: The procedure isn’t for everyone.

“It is a great operation for a lot of different neck related problems, but can’t fix everything,” Dr. Amit Jain, a spine surgeon at Johns Hopkins, wrote in an email. “Even if a player feels great, the decision to let early return to sport or delayed return depends on the surgeon and their protocol.”

Johnson has been asked by players around the league about the procedure and recovery process.

“Obviously, surgery is a scary thing,” Johnson said. “If it gets to a point where you’re wondering, ‘Hey, is it always going to be like this’ — if it’s constantly hurting and it’s getting worse and worse, people should do some research.

“For me, it’s been very, very beneficial.”

___

AP Hockey Writer John Wawrow contributed to this report.

___

More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/hub/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


              FILE - Vegas Golden Knights center Jack Eichel speaks during a news conference after an NHL hockey game against the Colorado Avalanche Wednesday, Feb. 16, 2022, in Las Vegas. Jack Eichel fought for the right to have a never-been-performed-on-an-NHL-player sort of neck surgery. The sharpshooting center for the Golden Knights by way of the Buffalo Sabres may be doing for backs/necks what Tommy John once did for the elbows of baseball pitchers — save careers. (AP Photo/David Becker, File)

AP

FILE - A sign at Twitter headquarters is shown in San Francisco, Dec. 8, 2022. New research shows c...
Associated Press

EU calls out Twitter for incomplete disinformation report

LONDON (AP) — Twitter failed to provide a full report to the European Union on its efforts to combat online disinformation, drawing a rebuke Thursday from top officials of the 27-nation bloc. The company signed up to the EU’s voluntary 2022 Code of Practice on Disinformation last year — before billionaire Tesla CEO Elon Musk […]
6 hours ago
A woman tries to warm next to a fire, in Adiyaman, southeastern Turkey, Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2023. Wi...
Associated Press

Live Updates I Aid, rescues in quake-hit Turkey, Syria

Rescuers pulled more survivors from beneath the rubble of collapsed buildings Thursday, but hopes were starting to fade of finding many more people alive more than three days after a catastrophic earthquake and series of aftershocks hit Turkey and Syria, killing more than 17,000. The earthquake that razed thousands of buildings in Turkey and Syria […]
6 hours ago
FILE - Samuel Bankman-Fried leaves Manhattan federal court in New York, Tuesday, Jan. 3, 2023. The ...
Associated Press

FTX founder keeps talking, ignoring typical legal strategy

NEW YORK (AP) — For federal prosecutors, Sam Bankman-Fried could be the gift that keeps on giving. After the November collapse of FTX, the cryptocurrency exchange he founded in 2019, Bankman-Fried unexpectedly gave a series of interviews intended to present his version of events. He was indicted in December and charged with perpetrating one of […]
6 hours ago
FILE - In this Tuesday, Oct. 1, 2013, file photo, lawmaker of the extreme far-right Golden Dawn par...
Associated Press

Far-right party banned from upcoming election in Greece

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Greece’s parliament has banned a far-right political party led by a jailed former lawmaker from participating in the general election later this year. Parliament published the text of a legislative amendment Thursday that will disqualify the Greek National Party on the grounds that its leader has been convicted of a serious […]
6 hours ago
Bottles of Pepsi are displayed in a grocery store, Ill., Thursday, Feb. 10, 2022. PepsiCo reports t...
Associated Press

Pepsi price hikes fuel 10% jump in the fourth quarter sales

PepsiCo reported better-than-expected sales in the fourth quarter after hiking prices for its drinks and snacks. Revenue rose more than 10% to $28 billion. That was better than the $26.8 billion Wall Street had forecast, according to analysts polled by FactSet. Pepsi raised prices in a number of markets as it continued to battle double-digit […]
6 hours ago
FILE - Maryland Gov. Wes Moore gives his first state of the state address, two weeks after being sw...
Associated Press

Maryland governor, officials supporting abortion protections

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — Maryland Gov. Wes Moore and state lawmakers are scheduled to announce support Thursday for measures protecting abortion rights, including a state constitutional amendment that would enshrine it. House Speaker Adrienne Jones and Senate President Bill Ferguson, who are both Democrats, will join the governor at a news conference to show their […]
6 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

...
Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Company looking for oldest air conditioner and wants to reward homeowner with new one

Does your air conditioner make weird noises or a burning smell when it starts? If so, you may be due for an AC unit replacement.
(Photo via MLB's Arizona Fall League / Twitter)...
Arizona Fall League

Top prospects to watch at this year’s Arizona Fall League

One of the most exciting elements of the MLB offseason is the Arizona Fall League, which began its 30th season Monday.
...
Children’s Cancer Network

Children’s Cancer Network celebrates cancer-fighting superheroes, raises funds during September’s Childhood Cancer Awareness Month

Jace Hyduchak was like most other kids in his kindergarten class: He loved to play basketball, dress up like his favorite superheroes and jump as high as his pint-sized body would take him on his backyard trampoline.
Eichel leads the way in NHL for disk replacement surgeries