Healthwatch 16: Penguins Player Battles POTS

WILKES-BARRE TOWNSHIP -- The Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins take to the rink for their season opener this weekend with a game at home versus the Charlotte Checkers.

Last season, one player didn't see a lot of time on the ice. Lukas Bengtsson was battling a health issue that just wasn't getting better.

The Penguins started practice this week, posing for pictures, and getting ready for their home opener Saturday night.

Lukas Bengtsson, 23, from Sweden and a Penguins right defensemen, is ready.

Last year was his first year with the Pens organization, but he played only 16 games. He was dogged by symptoms that he'd noticed before he'd come to the U.S. to play.

"Really fatigued, I had no energy at all, and after four, five days I went to check it out," Bengtsson recalled.

Back home in Sweden, Lukas had been diagnosed with Lyme disease. He'd gone through a few rounds of antibiotics. But every morning, and through the start of the season last year, he'd wake up with fatigue and nausea that wasn't getting better.

Then came a home game against Providence in January.

"The first period, I didn't even know what I was doing out there. It was pretty scary. You're so fatigued, you feel like you have no idea what you should do out there to play the puck."

A Lyme disease specialist in Boston told Lukas he'd probably never had it to begin with and after more testing, a different specialist at the Mayo Clinic finally diagnosed him with postural tachycardia syndrome, or POTS. That's a disorder that prevents blood from circulating properly which can cause quick changes in blood pressure and pulse.

There's no real way to treat POTS, but doctors told Lukas there's plenty he can do to help his symptoms.

"I wear compression socks all the time and pants when I play. I need to stay hydrated all the time, and I need to move. If I don't move, the blood isn't moving and my blood pressure will go down."

Lukas says he's lucky it's not a severe case and he's feeling good now. If anything, last season made him more excited, and more grateful, to get back on the ice.

"When I got the disease, I never knew if I'd play hockey again, and I appreciate the game so much more now. I'm really happy I can be back to play it," Bengtsson said.

Lukas says doctors told him they're not sure what causes POTS. Sometimes it can develop after a viral illness or a traumatic event.

The Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins season opener is Saturday in Luzerne County, game time 7:05 p.m.