Where to go from here: Young hockey player grapples with a stroke’s aftermath

After a stroke affected his vision, and with the complications of being on blood thinners, Arden Bring thought he might have to give up his passion for hockey at only 30 years old.
July 5, 2024
Arden Bring's enthusiasm for hockey faced serious challenges when he had a stroke before the age of 30. Photo by UCHealth.
Arden Bring’s enthusiasm for hockey faced serious challenges when he had a stroke before the age of 30. Photo by UCHealth.

As Arden Bring sat in his hospital room, he cracked jokes to his parents, deflecting the anxiety building up inside of him.

“Panic set in that I might not see normal ever again, and what that means to play hockey with only one eye,” he said. 

Bring’s hockey journey spans two decades, starting from street games and eventually transitioning to the ice, where he discovered his talent as a goalie. He plays in leagues twice a week at EPIC ice rinks in Fort Collins, Colorado.

“It gives me the chance to be a difference-maker and central to the game,” he said. “Goalie is an athletic position needing quick reflexes and acrobatics. Depending on how you’re seeing the puck and able to move, you can really impact the game. They can’t win if they can’t score.”

About a month before his 30th birthday, Bring landed in the hospital after suffering a stroke. In the blink of an eye, his time on the ice – and much more – was in jeopardy.

Arden Bring has been playing hockey for almost two decades. Photo courtesy of Arden Bring.
Arden Bring has been playing hockey for almost two decades. Photo courtesy of Arden Bring.

The importance of recognizing the signs of a stroke – at any age

On April 10, 2023, Bring woke with a piercing headache. He reached for his phone and texted his then-girlfriend: “My head.’’

“I think I was going to ask for help, but I fell asleep or passed out. I really don’t know,” he said.

Arden Bring. Photo courtesy of Arden Bring.
Arden Bring. Photo courtesy of Arden Bring.

When 5 p.m. rolled around and Bring was still not out of bed, his girlfriend grew concerned. Bring had been out in the hot sun golfing the day before, and the night before that, they had stayed out late after a concert. But even if he had decided to catch up on his sleep, she knew he should be getting up by now to prepare for his hockey game. As goalie, his team would have to forfeit if he didn’t play.

“When she woke me up, I tried to talk to her, and everything was slurry,” Bring said. His girlfriend was immediately concerned and demanded he go to the hospital. 

“I told her no. I needed to get ready for hockey. But as I walked to the bathroom, I walked into every door,” he said. “Then I looked at my eyes and realized they weren’t pointing straight. I couldn’t see. I had double vision. I thought, ‘OK, we need to go to the hospital.’”

Bring’s double vision and imbalance were tell-tale signs of a stroke. But a stroke in an athletic young man? In fact, the number of strokes in people ages 18 to 45 has been growing at a faster rate nationally than any other age group for the past few decades. 

“It isn’t something that only happens to older folks – a stroke can happen at any age,” Bring said. “It’s important to recognize symptoms.”

When a stroke happens

A stroke is a “brain attack” in which blood supply is lost to areas of the brain responsible for critical functions, including speech, balance and vision. Strokes are caused by a blood clot in a blood vessel or bleeding in or around the brain.

Some 87% of strokes are caused by a blood clot, which is called an ischemic stroke. Clots can obstruct large or smaller vessels in the brain and cut off essential blood supply. Bring had several small clots that were killing areas of his brain.

Research shows that 1.9 million brain cells die every minute someone is having a stroke.

“That means you are aging 3.1 weeks every minute (of a stroke), and if that transforms to hours, every hour, you could be aging by 3.5 years,” said Dr. Gautam Sachdeva, a vascular and interventional neurologist at UCHealth Medical Center of the Rockies in Loveland. “You have to save those (cells) in a timely manner to avoid irreversible deficits.”

The symptoms of a stroke

It’s possible that Bring’s stroke could have started with his piercing headache hours before he was awoken.

“It’s tough when that is the first symptom of something more serious because we can’t have everyone with a headache going to the ER,” said Dr. Jacob Chacko, a cardiologist at UCHealth Heart and Vascular Clinic in northern Colorado. “I tell people to look for something uniquely different than what they are used to feeling. If you’re having a distinctly different quality or severity headache – the worst headache of your life – get help immediately.”

Learn the signs of a stroke and act FAST:

FAST stands for:

  • Face. Uneven smile or drooping of mouth.
  • Arm. Sudden loss of arm strength or coordination.
  • Speech. Inability to speak clearly or to understand what is being said.
  • Time. Time to call 911 if you suspect stroke symptoms.

Symptoms might also include sudden loss of balance, inability to walk straight or sudden loss or changes in vision.

Calling 911 – instead of driving yourself or having someone else drive you to the emergency room – is essential as EMS can alert hospital stroke teams so they are ready for your arrival, saving time and brain.

Bring’s girlfriend drove him to UCHealth Poudre Valley Hospital Emergency Room, where he was quickly admitted. An MRI confirmed he had small clots in his left thalamus, right cerebellum and occipital lobe.

The thalamus is your body’s relay station. All senses, except for smell, process through the thalamus before they’re interpreted. It also plays a part in consciousness and alertness. The cerebellum is associated with the coordination of voluntary motor movement, balance and equilibrium. The occipital lobe is the visual processing area of the brain.

The clots threatened Bring’s future and his ability to enjoy his passion, hockey.

Arden Brings gets ready to head out on the ice as his team's goalie. Photo by UCHealth.
Arden Brings gets ready to head out on the ice as his team’s goalie. Photo by UCHealth.

Treating an ischemic stroke

At the hospital, doctors administered a clot-busting drug through an IV, which successfully broke up Bring’s blood clots and restored blood flow to his brain. Unfortunately, the stroke impaired his vision. 

He left the hospital 24 hours after his arrival with an eye patch. Doctors instructed him to rest and not drive until cleared by an occupational therapist. A week later, his doctors gave him the green light to fly to Los Angeles to visit his sister.

“It was a nice vacation, but my eyes weren’t getting better,” Bring said. “I couldn’t look at my phone or outside and see a clear picture. It’s like those drunk goggles they have you wear in high school. It was two pictures stacked on top of each other, and it destroyed my depth perception.”

Bring decided to seek a vision therapist. He had therapy three days a week and eye exercises to work on at home. 

Battling back from a stroke and returning to hockey

Despite trouble with his vision, Bring returned to the ice less than three months after his stroke. 

“I did not see that well, and I got lit up,” he said. “There was some pain once I started letting goals in. It’s hard to pick yourself up and say, ‘I’m OK; I’m going to keep doing this.’

“It was fun to get back out there and do something I love, but I was still suffering.”

Bring grappled with questions about why he had to confront such adversity. 

“It’s really frustrating. It is not how it is supposed to be, and I got depressed and very fatigued.”

His teammates helped to pick him back up. 

“They accepted me and still wanted me to play with them even though I was not at my best,” Bring said. “When I was down, they were encouraging. They helped build me up, and along with my therapy, I did recover.”

Arden with his teammates, who supported his efforts to get back on the ice after his stroke. Photo by UCHealth.
Arden (goalie) with some of his teammates, who supported his efforts to get back on the ice after his stroke. Photo by UCHealth.

A lifetime left to deal with the aftermath of a stroke

A year after his stroke, bring said his vision is back, though he still feels like he sees his nose more than before. He plays hockey regularly and still makes game-changing stops.

He takes blood thinner medications to prevent any further strokes. Blood thinners, though, come with an increased risk of bleeding. He was told that he may have to consider a less active lifestyle. 

“I was told I might need to restrict the things I do – all the things that young people want to do,” he said.

After weighing the risks, Arden Bring returned to playing hockey just months after his stroke. Photo by UCHealth.
After weighing the risks, Arden Bring returned to playing hockey just months after his stroke. Photo by UCHealth.

His doctors provided him with the education he needed to make informed decisions regarding his life. The doctors acknowledged that they understood that restricting his lifestyle may have an even greater effect on his mental health.

“Everything has risk, and you have to make calculated risks,” he said. “Ultimately, it was up to me to decide if I play hockey, and when I made that decision, my doctors supported me.

“There is some anxiety,” Bring said. “I feel some relief that I’m less likely to have another stroke, but it’s frustrating because I have to do regular checks and lab work because of the medication risks …”

He is hopeful that one day, he’ll be able to stop taking the blood thinners and continue to play hockey without the added fear.

“There were some dark times, but I’m living my life happier and healthier,” he said. “I don’t know if I have all the right words of encouragement, but I would say to others in recovery that your body is capable of healing, and you can bounce back if you work hard and have the right people by your side.”

About the author

Kati Blocker has always been driven to learn and explore the world around her. And every day, as a writer for UCHealth, Kati meets inspiring people, learns about life-saving technology, and gets to know the amazing people who are saving lives each day. Even better, she gets to share their stories with the world.

As a journalism major at the University of Wyoming, Kati wrote for her college newspaper. She also studied abroad in Swansea, Wales, while simultaneously writing for a Colorado metaphysical newspaper.

After college, Kati was a reporter for the Montrose Daily Press and the Telluride Watch, covering education and health care in rural Colorado, as well as city news and business.

When she's not writing, Kati is creating her own stories with her husband Joel and their two young children.