New drug gives player with hemophilia second chance at playing in Olympics

November 10, 1991|By Ken Stephens | Ken Stephens,Dallas Morning News

Four and a half years ago, David Quinn had to give up something -- ice hockey or his life.

The fact that the choice was clear didn't make it any less painful.

Quinn was one of the best collegiate defensemen in the United States, a shoo-in for the 1988 Olympic team, an NHL star of the future.

And that's when the doctors told Quinn, a hemophiliac, that if he kept playing, he could bleed to death from such seemingly minor injuries as a sprained ankle, a bruise or a cut from a high stick.

But today, Quinn, 25, has a second chance to play hockey and make the Olympic team because of, in the words of Olympic coach Dave Peterson, a medical miracle.

The miracle is called Mono-Nine, a new drug still undergoing clinical trials, a highly purified form of a blood-clotting factor that Quinn is missing.

"It's something I never thought would happen," Quinn said of his return to hockey. "I had pretty much resigned myself that I would never be able to play again."

For Quinn, that prospect 4 1/2 years ago had been devastating. He had been playing hockey since he was 5 years old. He had dreamed of playing in the Olympics and planned on making a living in the NHL for five to 10 years after college.

Quinn, from Cranston, R.I., had been drafted out of high school in the first round by the Minnesota North Stars, the 13th selection of the 1984 draft. But he knew he wasn't quite ready for the NHL and accepted a hockey scholarship at Boston University instead.

It was there that the first signs of the disease appeared. Quinn missed half his freshman season when he had to have surgery to stop internal bleeding in his right shin.

He had a relatively uneventful sophomore season, beyond the fact that he suffered a lot of abnormal bumps and bruises while earning first-team All-Hockey East and All-New England honors.

But after the season, the team doctor asked him to take some blood tests. "About a week and a half after the blood tests, I went in to talk to the coach about hockey," Quinn recalled. "The doctor was there standing with him. We didn't talk about hockey. Just the blood test. He said I'm a hemophiliac. . . . The doctor couldn't believe I'd been playing contact sports so long and survived major injury."

The doctor told Quinn he should quit playing. But Quinn wasn't ready to give up and, after a summer of thought, returned to the team and signed a waiver releasing Boston University of any liability. But contact in the third game caused massive internal bleeding in his right thigh. Although surgery wasn't necessary this time, he spent a week in the hospital until he was out of danger. He then missed half the season.

Nonetheless, he was invited to the Olympic trials in 1987.

"I was looking forward to it," he said. "I was playing in a pickup basketball game three weeks before trials when I sprained my ankle real bad. There was so much internal bleeding in my right leg that I had to have five operations that summer. I almost bled to death, and doctors gave me no choice. I had to give up contact sports."

Unable to play hockey, Quinn returned to school, completed his degree in sociology and coached the junior varsity team for a year. Then he went to work for a Boston law firm that represented hockey players.

He was still there in January 1991, when an uncle read an article about a new drug created by Armour Pharmaceutical Co. that supplements Factor 9, the blood-clotting factor Quinn and other people with Hemophilia B, or Christmas disease, are missing. There were other similar-acting drugs, but they had serious side effects that prevented doses the size Quinn would have to take to play contact sports. But Mono-Nine, Armour's new drug, had no such known side effects.

Essentially, Mono-Nine is a highly purified form of Factor 9, created by using an antibody to Factor 9 to separate the protein from donor blood plasma. And it contains nothing on the International Olympics' list of prohibited substances.

After doing his homework, Quinn contacted Armour, which was in the midst of years of clinical trials of Mono-Nine.

"I told them about my situation," Quinn said. "They were all excited. Obviously, this drug could help me out and let me play hockey at a high level. And it helps them find out about the drug."

Because Mono-Nine still is undergoing clinical testing and hasn't been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Armour can't sell it or make it generally available. And if it were for sale, it probably would be prohibitively expensive for someone like Quinn to take.

Monoclate-P, another Armour product for those missing Factor 8, sells for 65 cents a unit. And products now on the market for those missing Factor 9 sell for more than $1 a unit. Because Quinn is involved in a rough contact sport, his hematologist has him injecting himself with 6,000 units every other day. That would be an average of about $21,000 a week.

Quinn was able to quit his job and return to hockey only because Armour agreed to make him a test subject and provide the drug free of charge through the '92 Olympics.

And after two camps that cut a group of 80 players to 28, Quinn is still with the team -- and Mono-Nine is still working.

"It's funny," Quinn said. "In August, we had the tryouts here, to cut down to the final 50. I sprained an ankle, but I had no abnormal swelling or bleeding. It healed normally in about three weeks."

The injury caused him to miss nine games against international competition. Then in September, he played his first game in 4 1/2 years.

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