08/18/2004 1:15 AM ET
Cook reflects on brush with death
Reliever credits Rockies' trainers for saving his life
By Thomas Harding / MLB.com
DENVER -- Must be the altitude.
|Aaron Cook developed blood clots in his throwing shoulder that floated into each lung. (Denis Poroy/AP)
Anyone who has spent some time in Denver and felt a little short of breath has reached that understandable, and often correct, conclusion. Colorado Rockies pitcher Aaron Cook guessed that way Aug. 7 while warming up for a game against Cincinnati.
"I just figured we'd been in Denver for 14 days and I was starting to get a little weaker than normal," Cook said.
He was wrong. All the water and protein shakes he took, thinking he had the "flu bug," did no good, and the self-diagnosis nearly turned tragic. His breathing trouble forced the Rockies to take him out of a game against Cincinnati after pitching two innings and nearly passing out while warming up for the third. It turned out he had blood clots that doctors say started in his throwing shoulder, probably because of pitching, and floated until lodging dangerously into each lung.
"Tom Probst and Keith Dugger [the Rockies' head trainer and assistant trainer, respectively] made a great decision which I think saved my life, to send me to the hospital," Cook said.
Cook didn't leave Swedish Hospital in Denver until Monday. He made his return to Coors Field on Tuesday and discussed his scare with the media for the first time. Cook is out for the season, although blood thinners have reduced the clots to the point that doctors have no fear as long as he avoids strenuous activity.
Of course, Cook, 25, would like to return to the strenuous activity of pitching. He was 6-4 with a 4.28 ERA when forced out of action. Before his abbreviated game, a no-decision in the Rockies' 9-5 victory, Cook was 5-2 in his previous seven starts. He had a 2.70 ERA in his previous three starts at tough-to-tame Coors Field, and was beginning to realize the expectations Colorado had for him when it drafted him in the second round in 1997.
Besides cherishing time with family, Cook educated himself on his condition. But continuing his pitching career is secondary for Cook.
"I just got out of the hospital yesterday," Cook said. "The most important thing right now is my health. If I have the chance to play baseball again, so be it. I'm still alive, so I'm not worried about it."
Cook said he plans to meet with Rockies team physicians, including internist Dr. Allen Schreiber, to discuss his next steps. Cook said he has read that some pitchers have been able to continue their careers after having the same problem, but couldn't recall their names.
Probst, citing federal guidelines regarding medical information, couldn't offer that information but did say that the decision to send Cook to a hospital was a matter of the training and medical staffs working together. Dr. Thomas J. Noonan, the Rockies' associated orthopedist, was at the game and brought up the idea of a pulmonary embolism (blood clot in the lungs) before sending Cook to the hospital.
Probst was touched by Cook's gratitude.
"I think the biggest thing that hit home was you do a lot of things on a daily basis without a thank you," Probst said. "And you're not in it for the thank you. But when a young gentleman goes out of his way to thank you, and let others know what you've done, that's the satisfaction that you get."
Rockies officials have noted that Cook happened to be in the right place to have his difficulty. Had he been on the team plane or at home and not had a quick-thinking training staff to send him to a hospital, the condition could have been fatal.
Hitting close to home, University of Cincinnati assistant volleyball coach Stephanie Rosfeld, who like Cook grew up near Cincinnati and is his age, recently died in her sleep from the same condition.
Cook said doctors believe the clots had been in the lungs no more than a week, and the shortness of breath he experienced just before his pitching episode was an indication the clots were moving into his lungs.
"I was really shocked because I've never had any really significant or serious injuries in my life, in my baseball career," Cook said. "They told me I had blood clots in my lungs and I said, 'Oh that's kind of bad,' and then the paramedic and the doctor said, 'I don't think you realize how bad it is. We've had people kind of drop over dead from this.' "
Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.