Borje Salming's outlook worsening as family fights for Maple Leafs legend
As Maple Leafs legend Börje Salming’s deteriorating health made headlines, his family exrpessed frustation with his care options. Photo by Neil Davidson/CP.

As news of Börje Salming’s rapidly deteriorating health made headlines on both sides of the Atlantic, the man who detailed the Hockey Hall of Famer’s ongoing battle with ALS said his family remains resolute in the face of a grim situation.

Expressen reporter Johan Eriksson revealed in a Monday story that the Maple Leafs legend recently lost the ability to speak and now requires a feeding tube to keep his weight up. He also detailed the struggles Salming’s wife, Pia, has endured with the Swedish medical system to ensure he gets proper care.

The Salmings sought help in Canada following his mid-July diagnosis with the illness more commonly known as Lou Gherig’s Disease, only to see a drug prescribed by a doctor here get denied entry by Swedish customs. They’ve also been unable to secure specialized around-the-clock assistance because the 71-year-old is too old to qualify for it.

"They’re tired,” Eriksson said of the family. "They’ve been putting in a lot of work doing not only the day-to-day care, but researching things and looking up all of the options with Canada and trying to find the best way to deal with this. They’re tired and frustrated, but they’re still fighting. His daughter Teresa said, ‘We’re going to keep fighting the same way he was fighting on the ice, he never gave up. We’re not going to give up.’

"It’s tough but they’re doing anything and everything they can.”

Salming first became concerned about his health in February after experiencing an unusual twitching sensation in his muscles. He dropped out of a Tre Kronor legends game in March and went through tests in the spring to determine what was going on.

The Leafs announced news of his ALS diagnosis on Aug. 10.

The comments from Salming's family in the Swedish newspaper marked the first time they’ve spoken publicly about his condition. They chose to pull back the curtain in part to spur a discussion about a medical system in their country that they’ve found lacking.

"You feel like an ant fighting against the whole wide world," Pia Salming told Expressen. "We are under stress with the clock. He is getting a little worse week by week."

Eriksson is a New York-based correspondent for the newspaper who struck up a relationship with Salming after contacting him for a story earlier in the year. He conducted a series of phone interviews with members of the player’s family in recent days and his paper sent a photographer to Salming’s home in Stockholm.

They found him using a program on his iPad to communicate.

Asked what message he has for his fans, Salming typed "I’m thinking of you" into the machine before breaking into tears.

With his condition worsening, the family continues to seek out solutions that might improve his quality of life. One potential one came from the drug Albrioza, which was prescribed by a Canadian doctor and offered the hope of possibly giving the family an extra few months together.

However, it has yet to be approved for use in Sweden and a FedEx delivery containing the medication was stopped by customs officials and sent back. The Salmings are considering another trip to Canada if his health allows for it to receive Albrioza directly.

"It cannot be described. Seeing the person you love feel this bad… and you can’t do anything,” said Pia Salming. “It is a pain every day to see how bad Börje is. And this frustration – we’re running out of time.”

Salming spent 17 seasons in the NHL – 16 of them in Toronto – and is regarded as the first player from his country to break through and become a star in North America. His No. 21 is retired by the Leafs and he was named one of the 100 Greatest NHL Players during the league’s centennial season in 2017.

When news of his condition was published Monday, the tributes poured in from Canadians and Swedes alike.

 "It’s blowing up. That’s the short answer," said Eriksson. "For you in Toronto he’s of course a big star. For us in Sweden he’s huge. A pioneer, a trailblazer.

"We posted [the story] on Expressen’s Facebook page and there’s thousands of hearts and thousands of reactions.”

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