The doctors and nurses couldn't figure it out. The patient was still in a hospital gown and still hooked up to an IV unit in her room at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha. She was suffering from an advanced case of Hodgkin's disease and had undergone a bone marrow transplant just a few days earlier. Frankly, she was not in the best of shape.
So when a copy of the Boston Herald arrived via express mail, hospital personnel were shocked to see the story on the back page. The article, in June 1991, was about who might become the next coach of the Boston Bruins, which, truth be told, was not a subject of great interest to the medical-center staff. The identity of the author of the story is what grabbed their attention. How had she done it? She hadn't left her hospital bed for three weeks. For much of the time, she had barely been conscious.
"A lot of people around the NHL called to wish me luck or just to see how I was doing," says Karen Guregian, whose byline appeared on the story. "One day I got to talking to this coach who told me who the Bruins had been thinking about hiring to replace Mike Milbury before they chose Rick Bowness. I asked him if it was on the record, and he said, 'Sure, why not?' He probably thought I would nod off and forget about it." Instead, Guregian jotted down notes on the back of a get-well card and called the Herald. Through the haze of heavy medication, she dictated a story that may not have won her any awards for style but sure did win her plenty of respect from her peers. "The people at the hospital are still amazed at how that story got in the paper," she says.
Guregian, 34, began to cover the NHL in 1985, the year after Mario Lemieux entered the league. The two had a professional relationship until fate brought them closer together. As Guregian reports in this issue (page 46), they both were afflicted with Hodgkin's, a form of cancer that attacks the lymphatic system, and they both battled the disease with courage and determination. Lemieux has gotten a little more ink, but they both have made remarkable comebacks.
Guregian is still considered an authority on pro hockey in Boston, but these days she writes a general sports column for the Herald. SI senior writer Gerry Callahan graduated from Chelmsford (Mass.) High with Guregian, and later worked with her at both the Lowell (Mass.) Sun and the Herald. "Karen is one of those reporters out of some old black-and-white movie: dedicated, relentless, fiercely competitive," says Callahan. "I'm sure she must have taken a couple of sick days, seeing as how that damn disease nearly killed her. I just didn't notice them. She was always working, always digging."
Guregian, who is single and still lives in Chelmsford, was a three-sport star in high school. She says that her experience as an athlete has helped in the struggle against her illness. "You just reach the point where you say, 'I am not going to lose,' " she says. "That's how I felt, and I'm pretty sure that's the way Mario looked at it. It's like, The hell with this thing. It's not going to beat me. I've got too much to live for."