Sasakamoose, indigenous NHL pioneer, hospitalized with COVID-19 symptoms

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Fred Sasakamoose, one of the first indigenous players in the NHL, has been hospitalized, presumably with COVID-19.

The 86-year-old former Chicago Blackhawks forward was admitted to a hospital in Saskatchewan on Friday after experiencing shortness of breath and wheezing.

Sasakamoose’s son, Neil, said his father is in an isolated hospital unit where he is receiving antibiotics intravenously along with oxygen to help him breathe. He was tested for COVID-19 on Friday, and doctors were awaiting the result Sunday, Neil Sasakamoose said. A caretaker for Fred Sasakamoose had already tested positive.

“He’s been struggling, his breathing has been laboring, he has all the symptoms,” Neil Sasakamoose said of his father. “I can talk to him for a minute, two minutes on the phone, but it’s really hard. He has a hard time saying hello, the shortness of breath is that tough on him. Without oxygen, he’d be in real trouble.”

Sasakamoose, with treaty status, debuted for Chicago against the Toronto Maple Leafs at Maple Leaf Gardens on Feb. 27, 1954. He was scoreless in 11 NHL games that season, splitting time between Chicago and Moose Jaw of the Western Canadian Junior Hockey League.

The Blackhawks tweeted Saturday that Sasakamoose is in “our thoughts and prayers as he battles COVID-19.”

Sasakamoose, who lives on the Ahathkakoop Cree Nation reserve in Saskatchewan, has been trying to get up from his hospital bed and walk, his son said.

“He’s an old-school healer,” Neil Sasakamoose said. “He wants to sit up, he wants to move around. He believes the body has to move to keep their circulation going to stand up. My dad, when he doesn’t feel good, he gets up right away and he’ll go outside and do something or pace in his house wall-to-wall 100 times. That’s what he’s trying to do He’s trying move like he’s in his house or in his yard.”

Fred Sasakamoose began feeling ill on Wednesday, complaining of chest pains, his son said.

The elder Sasakamoose had a scheduled doctor’s appointment Friday. By the time he got there “he was slouched over,” his son said. “He went down that quick.”

“They’ve started treating him with antivirals. He’s got some issues around his chest X-rays or some X-rays around his heart, they told me,” Neil Sasakamoose said. “He’s in the peak of the infection. It’s his breathing, it’s really attacked his lungs. It’s going to be the recovery that’s going to be hard on him.”

Sasakamoose had a long and difficult path to the NHL, which included being taken from his family’s home and shipped to the St. Michael’s Indian Residential School in Duck Lake, Saskatchewan. The school was part of a government-sponsored, religious education system designed to assimilate the country’s indigenous children. The schools that began in the 1880s and closed in 1996 were rife with abuse.

But Sasakamoose never abandoned his language, cultural beliefs or way of life. He testified before Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 2012 about his experiences at the residential school.

In 2017, Sasakamoose was invested in the Order of Canada, an honor that recognizes Canadian citizens for outstanding achievement, dedication to community or service to the nation. He was inducted into the Saskatchewan Sports Hall of Fame in 2007.

Tweet from @NHLBlackhawks: Keeping former Blackhawk Fred Sasakamoose, the first Indigenous-born athlete to play in the NHL, in our thoughts and prayers as he battles COVID-19. Fred’s son Neil has this update: https://t.co/GpmISjmX2R pic.twitter.com/Q2bvAeBsKu

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