By Mike Griffith
Californian Staff Writer
The Bakersfield Californian
BAKERSFIELD, Calif. – Andrew Oke doesn’t remember the seizure he had while relaxing at home just over 14 months ago. Nor does he recall the subsequent seizure while he was strapped to a hospital bed.
“When they happen you black out and just shake or whatever,” he said.
But in an instant, Oke’s life had changed forever.
The hard-nosed defenseman, who had never even suffered from a headache or taken a Tylenol, was suddenly vulnerable and scared.
Why was this happening? What did it mean? Would I ever be able to play hockey again?
A myriad of questions were racing through his mind and some answers came quicker than others.
“I couldn’t sleep a wink for probably two weeks after I got home from the hospital,” he said. “I was mentally messed up.”
Oke (6-foot-2, 195 pounds) had been signed by the Condors in the summer of 2005 and was just two weeks away from heading to Bakersfield when he was stricken in his home not far from Toronto.
“It’s called a cavernous hemangioma, which means nothing to me other than it made me miss hockey for a year,” Oke said. “Instead of forming on my brain it calcified into my brain. It’s like the material of a pea. When it filled with blood the excess blood shot through my brain and caused the seizures.
“I’m on medication for the rest of my life. It’s actually shrunk to half the size since it was discovered. It’s from birth, and grew as my years went on.
“What I can’t do in life, I can’t drink anymore, but whatever. I’m alive.”
Condors coach Marty Raymond said he heard from Oke just days after the seizures.
“The news came that he had some sort of tumor, it was life threatening and he couldn’t do anything,” Raymond said. “He called us, devastated, and said it wasn’t going to happen.”
Oke said doctors told him that he wouldn’t play hockey again. He had told doctors that he played professional hockey for a living and that as part of that profession he fought.
“The doctor said I’d never even skate again, even a leisure skate with my buddies,” Oke, 25, said.
Which is part of the reason he was “mentally messed up” for a few weeks.
“Originally I had like a babysitter, which makes you feel like a little kid again,” he said. “I had all these restrictions on my life. I had to go a year without a license, no driving, no nothing.
“I wasn’t allowed to lift stuff, I couldn’t go on the ice. Throughout the first six months I just sat there pretty useless with someone always watching me. It was the worst time in my life, the worst.
“I went from people asking me questions about hockey, kids looking up to me, to people feeling sorry for me. It was the worst feeling ever.”
Ever so slowly, the medication began to work.
“Once they figured out the medication was working, the outlook changed,” he said.
A year after his first seizure, Oke was given the O.K. to resume his hockey career.
“He called us and told us he’d like a shot,” Raymond said. “You want to make sure you don’t bring someone that has a medical condition that puts the kid or the team at jeopardy. Human life is No. 1, you don’t want anybody to get hurt.
“We figured, well, we talked to him a year go, we like to have a little bit of loyalty and we might as well bring him back in.”
Oke had an MRI done shortly after arriving in Bakersfield — “I’ve been in that bubble a lot,” he said — and received his final clearance to play from the Condors’ team physician.
Oke was trading punches with another player two games into the season.
“At first I was worried about (fighting),” he said. “The doctor told me he wouldn’t recommend (fighting) to anybody but it has nothing to do with what happened to me.
“There’s still no way of hurting my head. That was my claim before and that’s my claim now. It’s still a rock.”
Oke played in the first four games, sat out the next six with a slight leg injury, and returned to action on Tuesday.
“That’s the first injury I’ve ever had in hockey,” he said. “I’ve been split open for 500 stitches but that’s always been in my face so that doesn’t hold you out.”
What has been holding Oke back, in addition to the leg injury, is his conditioning.
“I worked out at the end of the summer but I wasn’t 100 percent when I came here,” he said. “I lost a full year of playing hockey and training. I’m starting to feel better. It’s a lot different being out in practice skating and playing a game. I feel like I’m ready to go
now.” Raymond said he’s impressed by Oke’s work ethic and attitude.
“He was behind the 8-ball when he got here and he’s improving day by day,” Raymond said. “He’s so much of a character kid. He’s getting better every day. He played really well on Tuesday.”
Oke said he’s just thrilled to get a second chance at hockey, as well as life.
“I love the game of hockey,” he said. “If I didn’t love the game so much (his condition) would have been enough to shake me out of the game. I look at life so much differently now. You’re not here very long, what, 70 years, if that? Hopefully for me it will be 70 years.
“When you come that close to dying it makes you look at life a lot different. You only live once; I got a second chance.”