How It All Began The Bitter Rift Between The Flyers And Their Star Grew Out Of One Ugly Night.

Posted: June 07, 2000

When Keith Jones awoke between 6:45 and 7 on the morning of April 2, 1999, he was shocked at how Flyers center Eric Lindros' condition had deteriorated overnight. His roommate lay pale and gasping in a bathtub of warm water in their Nashville hotel room.

Something was seriously wrong, far beyond the rib bruise that team trainer John Worley had found after Lindros complained of chest pain during a game with the Predators the previous night. In fact, so much blood was seeping into Lindros' chest cavity - three liters in all - that his lung would eventually collapse.

Jones called Worley, but another three hours would elapse before Lindros was admitted to nearby Baptist Hospital at 9:44 a.m. By then, "Eric's critical condition was obvious," his father and agent, Carl, later wrote team chairman Ed Snider. "He was in shock, sweating, skin color as white as a sheet, and the resting pulse was almost twice its normal rate."

So poor was his condition that emergency-room doctors immediately administered oxygen and conducted surgery on the spot.

The treatment rendered by Worley - or the lack of it - in those three hours in Nashville caused the already heated relationship between Lindros, his family, and the Flyers to reach the boiling point.

The increasingly public disagreement culminated Monday in general manager Bob Clarke's assertion that Lindros' parents believed he had been trying to "kill" their son, an allegation Clarke hotly denied.

Much is in dispute about those three hours. But it is clear from interviews and from an examination of correspondence about the Nashville injury between Carl Lindros and team officials that whatever confidence Lindros and his family had in a Flyers medical staff they already had battled collapsed that harrowing day.

Neither Eric Lindros nor his family would discuss those crucial hours. Clarke did so in detail only this week.

"All the controversies, Eric brings them on himself," Clarke said. " 'John Worley wouldn't treat Eric properly. I was going to put him on a plane to try to kill him.' This kind of stuff never ends."

All sides agreed that the plan Worley originally discussed with the team's orthopedic specialist, Arthur Bartolozzi, that morning - putting Lindros on a commercial flight back to Philadelphia, where he would undergo further examination - would have been fatal.

Jones helped veto that idea - and perhaps saved his friend's life - by insisting that Lindros would "not be flying anywhere."

"Believe me, once the situation became clear, the last thing I would want to do is put someone with a punctured lung in a pressurized compartment," Worley said in an interview conducted last October.

In March of this season, after the second of four concussions Lindros would sustain, his open criticism of Worley, who holds a degree in health and physical education from West Chester University, led immediately to the stripping of Lindros' captaincy.

On Monday, Clarke said he would investigate trading the six-time all-star, who has won an NHL most-valuable-player award and four Bobby Clarke Awards as the Flyers' outstanding player.

"Considering all the circumstances, everything was done properly," Snider said in an October interview about the Nashville incident. But he also acknowledged that the decision to hospitalize Lindros "took too long for a variety of reasons. . . . Nobody understood this injury. No one has ever dealt with it in our organization or anywhere else we could find. . . . It's just ignorance on the part of everyone."

Worley said his course of treatment was prudent in two interviews: one in October, with Snider present, and the other in late January.

"They know how to treat a bruised rib or a cracked rib," Snider said of the Flyers medical staff. "With that, you can put a guy on a plane and say, 'Go home.' And that's what they were dealing with in their minds, a bruised or cracked rib. . . . It played itself out to the point where they realized, 'We've got to get this guy to the hospital,' and they did, and the guy is fine now."

After Lindros publicly criticized Worley in March, Snider and Clarke gave the Flyers trainer a vote of confidence by adding three years to his contract. Snider has strongly backed Clarke throughout the affair, saying last week that Clarke has never had a problem with Lindros, just with his parents.

In his interview, Snider said Lindros should shoulder part of the blame for his treatment by being, in effect, too strong and stoic throughout the whole ordeal.

"You've got to know that something is wrong," Snider said. "It isn't up to external people to know what is going on inside your body. At some point, you've got to know, 'I've got a real problem here. This is not a bruised rib or a cracked rib.' . . . None of that happened. . . . It's kind of a macho thing, but there's a responsibility for being a macho-type person."

Snider, angered by the Lindros family's accusation that, through "a lack of proper medical response, Eric's injury was exacerbated," urged a reporter in October to investigate a rumor that the collapsed lung had been caused not by an on-ice hit, but by an auto accident the night before.

Nashville police said they had no record of Lindros' being involved in an accident. Larry Kaiser, the Philadelphia pulmonary specialist who treated Lindros after the incident, said the player's injuries were inconsistent with the type typically suffered in auto accidents.

* It all began early in a ho-hum game against the expansion Predators at Nashville on April 1, 1999, when Lindros felt a stabbing pain in his chest.

Though Lindros finished the game, his lung would soon collapse. In the hours that followed, his life would be in danger and emergency surgery performed.

Within a few weeks, the weakened Lindros was mending, and the Flyers were prematurely out of the playoffs. But letters and accusations concerning the injury were flying like pucks at a skate-around.

The Lindroses were upset about what they saw as an unnecessary delay in their son's treatment. They were suspicious of Worley, with whom Lindros already had a severely strained relationship, according to one former Flyer. Lindros, the former teammate said, believed the team's training staff had been talking behind his back, suggesting he should have been able to play in some games he had missed with injuries.

The family was also convinced that Clarke had ordered Worley to fly the player back to Philadelphia for further tests - as his teammates flew to Boston for a game - without knowing the severity of his injury.

"We have been advised that had Eric attempted to fly back to Philadelphia as directed by Mr. Worley and Mr. Clarke, Eric would likely have died during or as a result of the flight," Carl Lindros wrote in an April 28, 1999, letter to Snider, which, along with other letters, the Flyers chairman allowed The Inquirer to review.

Clarke said he spoke with no one about the injury until Lindros was already at the hospital.

"Jim McCrossin [the team's strength-and-conditioning instructor] called me," Clarke said yesterday. "John Worley was already on his way to Boston. I didn't know anything about it until then."

In one interview, with Snider present, Worley conceded that, given his sleepless night in Nashville, he could not recall whether he had spoken to Clarke or not that night. Several weeks later, however, the trainer said he had not.

After receiving the April 28 letter, Snider ordered an internal investigation by team counsel Phil Weinberg. Lindros was not interviewed, but Worley, Jones and other players were, without their agents or lawyers being present.

In a May 13 reply, Snider said the investigation had determined that the Flyers had acted properly. Worley, according to the letter, had no reason to suspect anything more than a bruised rib.

"Carl, you and I are not medical experts, and we cannot and should not debate the appropriateness of Eric's care," the letter from Snider read. "What is most important is that Eric did receive proper medical treatment and is well on his way to recovery without further consequences."

"Even if he had [been told by Clarke to fly Lindros home]," Snider said, "would somebody think that Bob Clarke would overrule doctors, overrule trainers and say, 'I want to kill Eric Lindros. I want him to die'? What are they thinking? There is no logic to it. There is zero logic to it. ... The whole . . . thing makes me crazy."

* Lindros first complained to Worley of pain in his right side midway through the third period. He could not pinpoint what had happened except to recall hits by the Predators' Tom Fitzgerald and Sebastien Bordeleau. TV replays showed Lindros falling on his stick at one point.

"He said his ribs were bothering him and that he felt like maybe it was something that had happened in the first period," Worley recalled during his interview earlier this year.

Lindros also mentioned it to his linemates, Jones and John LeClair. He finished the game and afterward, back in the locker room, was examined by Worley.

Finding a tender spot and assuming it was a bruised rib, the trainer treated Lindros with electrical stimulation and ice for 20 minutes. Afterward, Worley said, he asked Lindros how the area felt now.

"Still sore," Worley recalled Lindros saying.

Carl Lindros believed his son ought to have been X-rayed at the arena.

"It is our understanding that if Eric had been X-rayed at that time, it is entirely likely that the buildup of blood in Eric's body would have been detected," he said in the letter.

Worley said he was not then aware that an X-ray machine had been available at the facility. But even if he had known, he said, it's doubtful the blood in the chest cavity could have been detected.

Lindros showered, dressed and left the arena.

"Eric said he felt real good and that he was going to get a bite to eat with the boys," McCrossin said. "That's the last I saw of him until I got a call from John Worley the next morning."

Lindros, recalling events several days later, said he then met with several players for beer and sandwiches at a restaurant near the downtown arena. But, still in pain, he said he excused himself early and returned to his room at the Renaissance Hotel. He turned on the movie Stepmom and tried to sleep. Sometime between 1 and 1:30 a.m., Jones entered the room he shared with the team's captain.

"Eric was already in bed," Jones said. "I went to bed and [between 2:30 and 3 a.m.] I woke up. Eric was in the tub. He was pale and in a tremendous amount of pain. I called John Worley and he wasn't there."

Worley was at Baptist Hospital with Mark Recchi, who had sustained a concussion a week and a half earlier and was experiencing discomfort after the Predators game. At 1 a.m., Recchi called him, complaining of severe headaches and nausea. Worley told Recchi to come to his room. Once there, the player went into the bathroom and vomited.

"I talked to one of our doctors back in Philly and immediately went with Mark to the hospital," Worley said.

All of the Flyers' traveling party had been given a list that included Worley's cell-phone number. The Flyers noted that after failing to get Worley in his room, neither Lindros nor Jones subsequently tried to reach him or anyone else. But Worley said he had switched off his cell phone anyway to comply with emergency-room rules.

Worley stayed with Recchi at the hospital while doctors performed a series of tests, including a CAT scan. He was back in his room, he said, by 6:45 a.m.

"I made plans to fly [Recchi] home commercially," Worley said.

When Jones awoke again about that same time, he said, Lindros looked awful, pale and grimacing with pain. A short while later, Jones phoned Worley again. (Jones said the call took place about 7 a.m; the Flyers said 7:45.) This time, Jones reached the trainer and demanded he come see Lindros immediately.

"I called John and told him this was more serious than a rib injury," Jones recalled during an interview last October. "He was in a tremendous amount of pain. I said John ought to take a look at him. When I knew John was coming, I went down and had a little breakfast. When I came back up, Eric was still in the tub. John wasn't there. I went in and talked to Eric in the bathtub. Looking at him, he was really pale and in even worse shape than he was earlier."

Jones called Worley again. Unable to reach him, he went looking for the trainer.

"When I got to the elevator on our floor, John was getting off," Jones recalled. "He said, 'How's it going?' And I said, 'Terrible. I think he needs more help.'

"I said, 'He's in too much pain. I think you should get him to a hospital.' And John said, 'Yeah, I think you're right.' So John ran down there [to Lindros' room], and I took Eric's stuff down to the bus. I told him I'd tell the people there that there was a problem. That's the last I saw Eric or John. When I got to Boston, I heard that Eric had a collapsed lung."

When Worley arrived at Lindros' room the first time, after Jones' call, he said he found the Flyers captain lying on the bed, "in discomfort and suffering from a shortness of breath." The trainer telephoned Bartolozzi back in Philadelphia.

They talked about making arrangements for X-rays, and it was then, Worley said, that mention was first made of possibly flying Lindros back to Philadelphia.

"I may have said something to Dr. Bartolozzi while I was discussing the situation with him, something like, 'We're thinking about flying Mark back commercially,' and maybe then I said something about Eric," Worley said.

"I think at that time, John had told Eric they were going to fly him back," Jones said. "I looked at him [Lindros] and told him, 'You know what? Something is really wrong with you. I think it might be something internal. I'm going to find John right now, and we've got to get you to a hospital.' "

Jones said Lindros never told him directly that it was Clarke who wanted him flown home.

"I know that's what some people believe," Jones said. "He never said that around me, but I can't guess what was said when I wasn't there. But I'm sure that if Clarkie were there and saw Eric, he wouldn't want him to fly home. He thought it was a rib injury, and he wouldn't have known any differently."

After examining Lindros following Jones' call, Worley returned to his own room to gather his things for Boston.

"I think I made some calls, but I can't be sure," Worley said. "It was such a hectic night. Then I went back down to see Eric, and this time he was in a tub of warm water. At that point, I called the paramedics [after conferring again with Bartolozzi and Predators physician Richard Garman], and they arrived and put him on a stretcher and took him to Baptist Hospital."

Lindros arrived at Baptist's emergency room, according to the Lindros letter, at 9:44 a.m., nearly three hours after Jones said he had first reached Worley. Garman decided that even the short trip to an operating room would jeopardize the patient. He was operated on right there.

Lindros' life was saved, but the dispute over his treatment soon took on a life of its own.

"It's always something," Clarke said yesterday. "I don't know where all this stuff comes from. But whatever happens with Eric turns into a controversy. This organization has been around for 30 years. We've had 600 or 700 players pass through, and this stuff never happened before."

Frank Fitzpatrick's e-mail address is ffitzpatrick@phillynews.com

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