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Questions, answers as Sabres' Kyle Okposo lands in neuro ICU

Kyle Okposo’s admittance to the neuro intensive care unit in Buffalo General Medical Center created concern in the Sabres’ dressing room and around the hockey world.

It also raised questions, including how serious is Okposo’s situation and what exactly is a neuro ICU?

[UPDATE: Okposo reportedly has been released from the hospital]

Here is general information not specific to Okposo. The Sabres, who must abide by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and the NHL’s collective bargaining agreement, have said only that he is under the care of their doctors while dealing with symptoms of an illness.

Question: What is a neuro ICU?

Answer: A neuro intensive care unit comprises an area of the hospital devoted to a team of specially trained physicians, nurses, therapists and other professionals. They are outfitted with equipment to assess, monitor and treat patients with disorders or injuries of the brain or spinal cord.

A neuro ICU is generally found only in large, major medical centers. It is reserved for the most seriously ill or injured patients. The staff must manage extremely complicated conditions with risks of death or disability that often require experts from multiple medical disciplines to diagnose and treat.

Q: Why would a patient be admitted to the neuro ICU?

A: Stroke, either from a blockage in an artery in the brain or a rupture from a hemorrhage, is a common disorder that lands patients in the units. But neuro ICUs also care for an array of other issues, including epilepsy, brain infections such as meningitis and encephalitis, degenerative disorders like Parkinson's disease, and brain tumors.

Sabres send support to Kyle Okposo, who's hospitalized and in intensive care

Q: Why can’t the Sabres say more?

A: The federal HIPPA rules set boundaries on the use and release of health records. It establishes safeguards that health care providers and others must achieve to protect the privacy of health information. Also, it holds violators accountable with civil and criminal penalties that can be imposed if they violate patients’ privacy rights.

Q: But NHL coaches give injury updates all the time. Why not with this illness?

A: Article 34 of the collective bargaining agreement between the NHL and the players’ union deals with the players’ medical health. It defines what can and cannot be shared.

The teams, league and NHL Players’ Association may disclose medical information that is “reasonably required for professional sports operations and related to the player's employment as an NHL hockey player.”

For anything not defined as an injury (which would be the case with Okposo), the parties may only publicly disclose that a “medical and/or health condition is preventing the player from rendering services to the club." They can also announce the anticipated length of the player's absence.

The Sabres have said Okposo will miss the rest of the season, which concludes with two games this weekend.


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