On March 29, Wideman hobbled off the Verizon Center ice during the third period of a game against Carolina. The defenseman knew instantly that something was wrong when Tuomo Ruutu’s knee made direct contact with his right thigh, but he didn’t anticipate that he’d spend the next 12 days in the hospital undergoing six surgeries.
“My whole quad seized up instantly,” the 28-year-old Ontario native recalled earlier this month. “I knew it wasn’t just a regular charley horse or something like that. I never thought it would amount to all the surgeries I had, all the time I was in the hospital and all the recovery time.”
Wideman suffered acute compartment syndrome in his thigh, which was further complicated by a rupture in a branch of his femoral artery — an extremely rare and severe combination of problems. In the NHL’s injury database, which dates from 2006, there has been no case like Wideman’s, according to Capitals team doctor Ben Shaffer.
“There are only two articles in the world’s medical literature that describe this exact problem,” said Shaffer, who will present a case study of the injury and treatment to NHL team doctors during all-star weekend. “There was no data at all to go on in terms of a precedent of knowing whether he could get back to playing hockey, playing in the NHL — whether the demands would outstrip his abilities after the injury.”
When Wideman came off the ice following the hit, the pain increased in his leg as it tightened and swelled rapidly. That was an indication that Wideman had compartment syndrome, a pressure increase in the muscle that can cause nerve damage and blood-flow problems. Within 21
2 hours, Wideman was out of his first surgery, which involved making a five-inch incision to drain the blood from the hematoma.
“His thigh muscle was under such enormous pressure,” Shaffer said. “When we made the incision to do the decompression, his leg sprung open like an overstuffed suitcase.”
Roughly eight hours later, Wideman was in the intensive care unit when the muscle unexpectedly began to swell again. Doctors discovered that one of the branches in his femoral artery had ruptured and was bleeding into the muscle, Shaffer said. Once the torn branch was repaired, the defenseman underwent a second surgery to extend the cut on his leg and decompress the muscle once again. It would take four more trips to the operating room over the next 10 days for Shaffer and other doctors to gradually close the gaping wound, which stretched from his knee to more than a foot up the length of his thigh.