Manitoban NHLer Jayce Hawryluk got COVID-19, twice — even the ultra-healthy struggle to recover

Jayce Hawryluk is one of the unlucky ones.

The Vancouver Canucks’ forward was knocked off the top of his game last spring when he tested positive for COVID-19 — fighting just to get back to normal for most of the NHL’s off-season.

At the time, he was one of the first Manitobans to suffer through the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

Fast forward almost exactly a year, and more than 38,000 people in the province have now dealt with a positive diagnosis.

And, as Hawryluk’s Vancouver Canucks became the epicentre of a COVID-19 outbreak last month, he tested positive — again.

“It spread so quick within our team, and a lot of guys got it really bad,” the 25-year-old from Roblin, Man., says.

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Vancouver Canucks centre Jayce Hawryluk (13) celebrates his team’s win over the Montreal Canadiens in Vancouver, Monday, March 8, 2021. Jonathan Hayward / The Canadian Press

Vomiting, headaches, fatigue and shortness of breath were all symptoms reported amongst the Canucks in the weeks that followed.

Some players tested positive for the P.1 variant of concern that experts say is responsible for increased transmission of the virus, and re-infecting people who’d already dealt with the “wild” COVID-19 virus in the past.

Read more: P.1 variant is spreading in Canada. What do we know about it and vaccines?

On top of their own physical health, some players had to live with the responsibility of passing the virus on to their families and children.

“It was a scary time. You don’t know how each person’s going to react, how it’s going to hit someone.”

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Hawryluk and the Canucks hit the ice earlier this month after more than three weeks off, and now fall into the “recovered” category listed by the British Columbia Centres for Disease Control.

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But he says that definition doesn’t mean the same thing as “healthy” especially when trying to maintain elite athleticism.

“I think it might be tough to get back to 100 per cent this season.”

“You’re hit with a crazy virus, you take so much time off, and then you have to bolt back into it — within a month, we play 19 games. Guys aren’t going to feel 110 per cent, that’s just the way it is.”

Long road to COVID recovery

Dr. Mahwash Saeed, a cardiologist at Winnipeg’s Victoria General and St. Boniface hospitals, says the average Manitoban could face a long road to a true recovery just like pro athletes do.

“[Hockey players] are very young, so they tend to be healthy in any case, but over and above that they’re extremely fit. They have some of the highest levels of cardiovascular fitness than anyone in the world right now.”

Despite his fitness level, as Hawryluk got back into the gym following his first diagnosis, he says it took months to feel like himself again.

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So what does that mean for the tens of thousands of recovering Manitobans who’re looking to get more active amid the warmer weather?

Dr. Saeed says there are some things you need to watch out for.

“It’s not just shortness of breath — but a shortness of breath that’s unexpected for them.”

“Any sort of chest pain, racing heart, or feeling faint with or without activity are all things they need to be aware of.”

Saeed says these could be signs of a condition known as myocarditis or inflammation and scarring of the heart tissue.

“It’s often caused by a viral infection, so before COVID-19, it was the seasonal flu. It can cause long-term heart disfunction — where it may not pump at the same level it might have before.”

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While you can make a full recovery from myocarditis, Saeed says severe cases could lead to more issues down the road.

“About 25 per cent of people resolve completely, about half pretty much get better but have some residual symptoms, and about 25 per cent could need a heart transplant.”

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Saeed says she’s seen three or four of those severe cases each flu season in years past.

While evidence is still emerging, early research shows up to 70 per cent of those who’ve suffered from COVID-19 could have some degree of scarring on their heart tissue.

If you’ve previously recovered from COVID-19, Saeed says there’s no need to worry unless you start to experience some of those symptoms.

“For people who previously weren’t very active, they may want to check with their physician before they embark on any sort of exercise regimen.”

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Otherwise, starting slow and building your tolerance up is the way to go.

“It could start with very gentle exercise like walking around your house, stretching, doing yoga … that could progress to walks outside, and every day you could try to walk a little bit faster.”

While Hawryluk and his teammates didn’t have a huge amount of time to ramp back up, he says the sentiment from the Canucks’ training staff was the same.

“Those first couple practices were tough just trying to get back into it. They said, ‘if you’re not feeling right and something’s going wrong, just leave the ice.’ There’s nothing wrong with that.”

“This virus hits everybody differently. It can affect someone completely differently than it affects you.”

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