Mighty Duck defenseman Milos Holan has been diagnosed with a slow-progressing form of leukemia and will need a bone-marrow transplant to survive, doctors said Sunday, but Holan will try to keep playing while searching for a donor.
"We did find this at a very, very early stage of the disease," team physician Craig Milhouse said. "Milos is healthy at the moment. He is cleared by the multitude of doctors we have involved to play hockey. There's no reason he can't continue to play hockey. Because of the nature of the disease, we don't know when something would arise to change that."
Holan has been diagnosed with chronic granulocytic leukemia, which initially progresses slowly, beginning in a chronic phase with few symptoms. Later it develops into an acute phase that can lead to death within months. The average onset of the acute phase is about 3 1/2 years after diagnosis, but it can take as long as 10 years. Because the disease in its acute phase is particularly resistant to treatment, experts advise bone-marrow transplants as soon as a donor is found.
"I just want to say this is a very tough situation for me, but I am going to beat this because I want to play hockey for the Mighty Ducks for a long time," said Holan, 24, who learned of his diagnosis before the season but asked the team not make it public until he was prepared to announce it. He did that Sunday afternoon, with his wife, Irena. The couple has a daughter, Veronica, 4.
The search for a marrow donor is under way, but Holan has learned that his only sister, who traveled from the Czech Republic to be tested, is not a match.
"If Milos had a twin brother, that would be the best chance of finding a match," Milhouse said, urging people to be tested as potential donors for all leukemia patients.
If a match is found, Holan will undergo a transplant almost immediately, and Milhouse said, "We would hope that he would have a cure from the transplant and he would live a normal life like all of us in this room."
Figures on survival rates vary, but Holan is being told that his chances are as good as 75%.
Holan's diagnosis was made after doctors ordered additional tests when an abnormally high white blood-cell count was detected during his preseason physical. Holan had some difficulty believing the diagnosis, partly because he felt so good.
"I didn't feel anything. Everything felt like before. I played in games, I practiced, I lifted weights," he said.
"He'll tell you he feels fine," Milhouse said. "Based on the stage of the disease at this time, that's exactly what we'd expect."
Holan did not play in the Ducks' game Sunday against Winnipeg, but Coach Ron Wilson said he will play tonight against the Colorado Avalanche in Denver.
He is taking medication to lower his white-blood cell count, but Milhouse said it has no side effects other than slight nausea. Holan's blood will be tested weekly, whether the team is at home or on the road, and if he becomes anemic or his platelet count is abnormal, doctors will reassess whether he should be playing.
"He could play for two years and this could remain chronic," Wilson said. "It's hard for everybody to understand, but you've got to go about life as normal as possible and stay in a positive frame of mind."
Outwardly, Holan has been in a reasonably good mood through it all, accepting Wilson's typical teasing.
"I said to Milos, 'You could be so lucky if I'm your match,' " Wilson said. "He said, 'I'd prefer Ray Bourque to be my match than you.' We were laughing about it.
"I just wanted to proceed as if everything was normal, for his sake," Wilson said. "The support's there. He may have a rough day mentally now and then. But it's a personal, private matter. It's life and death."
Holan knew he might have leukemia for most of the exhibition season, but nevertheless played all but one game. He told his teammates of his diagnosis before the final two exhibition games. He has played in two of the Ducks' seven regular-season games, struggling uncharacteristically in both. He missed three others complaining of cold or flu symptoms that Milhouse insists are not related to his leukemia, and was scratched Friday because of shaky performances.
"I think mentally it was really weighing on him," General Manager Jack Ferreira said.
When the Ducks visited Pittsburgh last week, Wilson called Mario Lemieux "an inspiration to anybody who has ever had a serious disease" for coming back from Hodgkin's disease, and he said Sunday he was thinking about Holan.
Until Sunday's announcement, Holan politely dismissed questions about whether he might have a serious health problem.
"If something happens, it happens," he said. "That's life."
Potential bone-marrow donors are encouraged to call the City of Hope Medical Center's Donor Center and National Registry at (818) 359-8111, extension 2286.
* DUCKS WIN
Paul Kariya and Chad Kilger scored in 6-2 victory over Winnipeg. C2