Sports

‘I can’t take it as a brain surgeon’: Ring KO that left Montreal’s Adonis Stevenson in coma alarms medical community

MONTREAL — One of the doctors who worked the boxing match
Saturday night in Quebec City that left Adonis Stevenson
hospitalized in an induced coma said he and his colleagues are
at a loss to medically justify the sport.

The goal of boxing is to inflict damage on the opponent, often
by knocking him unconscious. And that carries important risks
for severe head trauma, Jean Dore said.

“I can’t say we can justify it,” Dore said in an interview.
“It’s a question a lot of doctors are asking, especially
doctors within the sport.”

As of Monday evening, Stevenson, the 41-year-old Montreal-based
fighter known to his fans as “Superman,” remained in intensive
care in a Quebec City hospital after a knockout by Oleksandr
Gvozdyk of Ukraine. In a statement, the hospital described the
fighter’s condition as stable.

Despite his misgivings, Dore said he prefers to remain ringside
rather than leave the sport.

One of his patients was New Brunswick boxer David Whittom, who
died last March after being in an induced coma for 10 months

following a knockout blow.

Oleksandr
Gvosdyk (black trunks) punches Adonis Stevenson (gold trunks)
during their WBC light heavyweight championship fight at the
Videotron Centre on December 1, 2018 in Quebec City.

Mathieu
Belanger/Getty Images

Dore chooses to keep attending fights, he said, “to better
manage the situation and to try to prevent these events.” On
Saturday, Dore was a backup physician and did not directly care
for Stevenson.

Dr. Charles Tator, a neurosurgery professor at University of
Toronto and a director at Canadian Concussion Centre, said it
pains him to watch boxing.

“I can’t really watch combat sports because it bothers me so
much when I see the direct hits to the head,” he said in an
interview.

He said it’s “tragic” that people willingly get into the ring.

There’s so many hits to the head that could be damaging, that
I can’t take it as a brain surgeon, knowing what happens
inside

“There’s so many hits to the head that could be damaging, that
I can’t take it as a brain surgeon, knowing what happens
inside,” Tator continued.

Alain Ptito, a brain trauma expert at McGill University’s
Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital, said it is
impossible to make the sport safe.

“When you are knocking out someone, you are essentially
damaging their brain,” he said in an interview.

A fighter who stumbles and crashes onto the mat after a
knockout punch has suffered trauma to the area around the brain
stem, which governs vigilance and consciousness, he explained.

Oleksandr
Gvozdyk of Ukraine lands a knockout punch to Adonis Stevenson of
Montreal to win the Light Heavyweight WBC championship fight,
Saturday, December 1, 2018 in Quebec City.
Jacques Boissinot/The
Canadian Press

Injuries are cumulative, Ptito added, meaning the more one gets
hit in the head, the greater the likelihood they will have an
early degenerative disease.

“Boxing should be abolished as a sport,” he said. “I wouldn’t
hesitate to say that.”

But any pressure by doctors to ban boxing would trigger
resistance from those who say government has no place
interfering with consenting adults who understand the risks of
professional boxing.

In Montreal, one of the top boxing cities on the continent, the
pushback would be particularly strong, said TSN 690 boxing
analyst Matt Casavant.

Fighters such as Lucian Bute, Jean Pascal, and Stevenson are
major sporting figures in the city and are embraced by fans,
said Casavant, who also works bouts as a cutman treating
fighters between rounds.

Boxing transcends sport, in part because of the storylines of
troubled men who make something of their lives, Casavant said.
Stevenson, for instance, served jail time for being a pimp. The
boxer has in the past credited boxing for turning his life
around.

“These fighters, especially in North American culture — do not
necessarily choose this path,” Casavant said. “This is their
best way of getting out of trouble — of making a living for
their family. Boxing knows what it is. It’s not trying to hide
the fact it has big-time risks and health concerns.”

Sylvera “Sly” Louis, co-owner of Underdog Boxing Gym in
downtown Montreal, said boxing changed his life.

Oleksandr
Gvosdyk celebrates after defeating Adonis Stevenson during their
WBC light heavyweight championship fight at the Videotron Centre
on December 1, 2018 in Quebec City.
Mathieu Belanger/Getty
Images

“Boxing lets me express my anger — my anger and my desire to
create and to compete,” he said in an interview. “It allows me
to be nice (outside the ring.)”

Louis, 36, who still competes professionally, said seeing what
happened to Stevenson was a reminder of the dangers of the
ring. “Sometimes when I’ve gotten hit, my ego will want to
pretend that it didn’t hurt me,” he said. “We’re all proud and
sometimes our pride can get us hurt.”

Louis started boxing at 16, and he says it makes him happy to
see people he’s come up with over the years doing well, thanks
in large part to the sport.

“We’re not in jail and we’re not dead,” he said. “Some have
families and most are doing good.”

— With files from Gregory Strong, The Canadian Press

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