Former Leafs star Börje Salming and family share details of his struggle with ALS

Former Toronto Maple Leafs defenceman Börje Salming recently spoke to a Swedish newspaper about his struggle with ALS after he was diagnosed in July. (Reuters)

Former Toronto Maple Leafs defenceman Börje Salming has opened up to Swedish newspaper Expressen about his struggle with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), which he revealed has taken away his ability to speak and made it difficult for him to eat normally.

“His illness is speeding along very fast,” Salming's wife Pia told Expressen.

ALS "is a disease that gradually paralyzes people because the brain is no longer able to communicate with the muscles of the body that we are typically able to move at will," according to the ALS Society of Canada.

Salming, 71, first felt something was wrong in February 2022, when he felt an unusual muscle twitch. The next month, he had to drop out of an alumni game.

The official diagnosis came in July, triggering a depression that paralyzed his life at home.

“He was so depressed that he couldn’t talk to me either,” Pia told the paper. “We have always been super tight, me and Börje, and always talked a lot to each other.”

Salming communicates mostly through a speech synthesizer on an iPad, and is forced to consume food through a tube. He does find solace in some gardening activities, like watering his plants.

The disease is not advanced enough for the former NHLer to require hospital care full time, and he is only eligible to receive home care that comes at certain times throughout the day. And because he is over 65, he cannot be assigned a personal assistant, according to the Swedish health care system.

Salming must rely on his wife and children to help him get the proper care on a daily basis.

"We are completely exhausted, the whole family. We’ve done just about everything, and he’s only getting worse,” Pia said.

Salming played 17 NHL seasons, 16 of which he spent in Toronto. In 1,148 career games, the 6-foot-1 blueliner scored 150 goals, registered 637 assists, and was selected to three All-Star games.

Salming recently travelled to Canada with Pia and their daughter Teresa to see an ALS doctor, who prescribed a medication that could help slow down the progression of the disease and give him more time to live.

The medication, called albrioza, is not approved in Sweden and is not allowed to enter the country, so the package containing the drug was held up at the Swedish border, and was eventually returned to Canada.

"Since July, we’ve been researching day in and day out ourselves, we’ve been pushing the envelope," Teresa said. "And we’re done now.”

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