The 71-year-old said he has been finding himself speech-impaired lately and feeling lackluster, but was surprised to find out why, saying he had received news “that has shaken me and my family”.
“The signs that something was wrong with my body turned out to be ALS disease, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease,” Salming said in a statement. “In an instant, everything changed.
“I don’t know what the days ahead will look like, but I understand that there will be challenges greater than anything I have ever faced. I also recognize that there is no cure, but there are numerous trials underway around the world and there will be a cure one day. In the meantime, There are treatments available to slow the progression and my family and I will continue to be positive.”
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, is a progressive disease of the nervous system that affects nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord, causing loss of muscle control. There are more than 800 patients living with ALS in Sweden, and a further 250 Swedes are diagnosed with ALS each year.
“ALS is a devastating disease that not only affects muscles, but can also affect personality and cognitive functions,” said Dr. Caroline Ingre, Salming’s attending physician. “People affected by this disease experience progressive muscle weakness. In about 70 percent of diagnoses, the disease begins with symptoms in the spinal cord, increasingly weakening the patient’s arms and legs, while in about 30 percent start around the mouth and throat, leading to difficulty speaking and swallowing. These patients often also have an associated emotional shock that manifests as uncontrollable laughing or crying.”
Dr. Ingre is the founder of the Karolinska ALS Clinical Research Center, which studies the causes, risks, and spread patterns of ALS, with the goal of identifying the disease at an early stage to provide more effective treatment.
“In most ALS patients, breathing is affected and symptoms usually appear first at night, while other typical signs are morning headache, daytime sleepiness, and shortness of breath during the day or when lying on their backs. up,” he said. “Therefore, patients are also treated in a respiratory clinic and, when breathing is affected, they are offered support administered through a face mask (non-invasive ventilation).”
Salming is receiving support from former colleagues in Canada.
One of the first people he approached was Hall of Famer Darryl Sittler, who played with Salming in Toronto from 1973 to 1982. The 71-year-old helped Salming write the statement that came out Monday.
“It’s devastating,” Sittler said. “We get together every spring, you marvel at the way he is, and then this. It’s a big challenge for him. It’s scary for him to know there’s no cure.”
“Ever since he and his family contacted me about three and a half weeks ago, we have been trying to guide him and give him the best possible help.”
As part of those efforts, Sittler contacted Mark Kirton, a former NHL forward who played 13 games for the Maple Leafs between 1979 and 1981 and was mentored by Salming. The 64-year-old, who was diagnosed with ALS in 2018 and needs a wheelchair, immediately contacted Salming to help him and his family absorb the shock and provide guidance on the way forward. .
“I told him, ‘King,’ the goal here is to survive and stay until they find a cure,” Kirton said. “I Zoom frequently with him and his family, and I can tell you that he has been very attentive to everything that we have talked about, including how to get the [medicines] He needs. It is important that he receives them at the beginning early.
“I’m going to be in touch with him regularly to help him. So will Darryl, Lanny McDonald and Tiger Williams, some of his former teammates. They already have. I think Borje could come to Toronto for the Hall of Fame festivities.” Fame in November and we’ll all be waiting there to help.”
As he has done with Salming, Kirton hosts regular video calls with 25-30 ALS patients and personal carers as part of ALS Action Canada, “to give those affected a stronger voice in pushing for approval of new treatments, funding and to discuss the development of possible cures.
Salming played 16 seasons with the Maple Leafs (1973-89) before ending his NHL career with the Detroit Red Wings (1989-90). He scored 787 points (150 goals, 637 assists) in 1,148 games and was the first Swedish-born player to be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.
In 2014, his statue was added to Legends Row outside Scotiabank Arena in Toronto. His number 21 was retired by the Maple Leafs in 2016 and a year later he was named one of the 100 greatest players in the NHL.
“Since I started playing ice hockey as a little boy in Kiruna, Sweden, and throughout my career, I have given my all and will continue to do so,” said Salming. “At this time, I am assured that I have my loving family around me and the best medical care possible.”
The Swedish Junior National Team paid tribute to Salming during the 2022 IIHF World Junior Championship when the coaching staff wore number 21 stickers on their lapels during each game.
“These players are quite young, but for us, the coaches and the staff, it is special,” Sweden coach Tomas Monten said on Wednesday. “We just heard the news (Wednesday morning) and talked about it. It’s sad news and we just hope everything works out. He’s one of the best players we’ve ever had.”
“If you’ve ever been to Toronto and you get in a cab and say you’re Swedish, you hear all the stories. We just hope it turns out well. It seemed like a good thing.”
Sweden’s players were too young to see Salming play live, but they understood the impact he had on hockey in their country and beyond.
“He’s a legend in Sweden,” said Swedish captain Emil Andrae (Philadelphia Flyers). “I don’t remember much about him as a player, but I’ve seen videos on YouTube. The whole crowd defended him in Toronto at the Canada Cup in 1976. That’s unbelievable. We try to root for him a little bit; we feel so sorry for him.”
NHL.com Staff Writer Mike G. Morreale contributed to this report