Dietz: Is Blackhawks' Toews ready and able? That's the question everybody wants answered

  • Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews is expected back this season after missing a year due to illness. Training camp opens Thursday.

    Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews is expected back this season after missing a year due to illness. Training camp opens Thursday. Associated Press

 
 
Updated 9/21/2021 4:28 PM

When Blackhawks training camp opens Thursday, there's one question everyone wants answered.

Actually, make that about a dozen questions -- about team captain Jonathan Toews.

 

First and foremost, how is he doing after taking an entire season off due to medical issues? Can he play at or near the same level as before?

When did the symptoms from Chronic Immune Response Syndrome begin to subside? Could they be gone for good? Who did Toews lean upon for emotional support? How much did he stay in contact with Hawks management about his condition?

What does he think about new additions like Seth Jones, Marc-Andre Fleury and Tyler Johnson? What about the sexual abuse scandal involving the organization?

One of the biggest questions is why didn't Toews -- one of the top faces of the league -- hold a news conference to announce his return?

The Hawks and the NHL should have made Toews available to the local and national media. Not doing so is disrespectful to fans.

Imagine any other prominent athlete sitting out an entire year due to illness, then announcing their return via video. Unlikely.

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In addition to the video, Toews -- who turned down a one-on-one interview with The Daily Herald -- granted one interview, which the Hawks were aware of in advance.

In the video, Toews said he was suffering from Chronic Immune Response Syndrome. In the aforementioned interview, Toews said he believes he's a "COVID long hauler."

"I think there's just a lot of things that just piled up where my body fell apart," Toews said in the video. "My immune system was reacting to everything I did -- any kind of stress, anything I would do throughout the day. It was always kind of that stress response. It took some time, and that was the frustrating part ... not knowing when or how we were going to get over the hump."

Dr. Greg Sharon said he and the doctors from the allergy/immunology department at Amita Health comprise the only team in the Chicago area treating CIRS. He said he's seeing more people show symptoms since COVID began to ravage the world.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Whether or not Toews had COVID hasn't been made public.

Sharon said CIRS is often misdiagnosed as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, chronic fatigue syndrome or fibromyalgia. Common symptoms are tiredness, memory loss and mood changes.

"There's something in the environment that gets you, whether it be infection, inflammation or possibly a toxin," said Sharon, who also treats patients from four other states. "One of the ones we used to see in the past was mold sensitivity.

"We're dealing with an immune response that doesn't turn off. That's the big problem. The immune system is like multiple wheels and once one starts spinning it spins other cycles and then those don't turn off correctly."

CIRS is not a common diagnosis, however. Nothing on the syndrome is found in the industry's Allergy/Immunology textbooks, or in any of the major peer reviewed publications such as the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology or the Annals of Allergy Asthma and Immunology.

The good news for Hawks fans is Toews has been working out at Fifth Third Arena most of the summer. In the coming weeks and months we'll see if the Hawks' captain can play a significant number of games at a high level.

Sharon said once the immune system is damaged there's an increased risk that everything can come roaring back.

"These patients are also more susceptible under stress," Sharon said. "When you play a lot of games and you're up late at night and you travel late, I don't think that's great for their health. ... You're more susceptible to stress-induced fatigue and tiredness."

In the big picture, everyone hopes Toews' symptoms are gone for good and he can return to living a normal life.

That's what is most important.

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