A 20-year-old Michigan woman who was scheduled to undergo a preventative double mastectomy on Friday received an uplifting surprise visit a day before the procedure from Detroit Red Wings goalie Jimmy Howard, a former University of Maine hockey star.
Kelly Rothe, a junior at Eastern Michigan University, tested positive for the BRCA-1 gene mutation when she was 18. It was the same gene that caused the cancer that claimed the lives of Rothe’s mother and aunt, prompting her decision for the mastectomy.
On Thursday, a family dinner was held for Rothe and she watched a performance by her favorite band.
A visit was also arranged by the Red Wings to their locker room where she was greeted by her favorite player, Howard.
“Oh my God, Jimmy Howard just gave me flowers!” Rothe said excitedly on a video when she met Howard.
Howard talked to Rothe for several minutes and invited her back to the Red Wings arena next season as his guest for the team’s cancer awareness game.
Rothe was released from Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak, Mich., on Saturday and was in great spirits and looking forward to returning home, according to the hospital. She was the youngest patient to ever have the surgery at Beaumont.
On Thursday, Howard said he learned of Rothe’s surgery when he received an email from a friend, asking if Howard would be willing to meet Rothe.
“I said sure, it would be uplifting for both of us. She is such a courageous young girl. … It was really brave in what she was doing,” Howard said. “It’s just nice to be able to return the favor. She has cheered a lot for me.”
Rothe’s mother died of breast cancer when she was 9 and she decided to have the surgery to decrease her risk of being diagnosed with cancer in the future.
“I have the opportunity to help people and educate people about the gene and what’s going on and preventative measures,” Rothe said. “It’s been a journey. I get negative comments of course, but the positive comments outweigh the negative a hundred times.”
Howard, a second-round draft choice by the Red Wings in 2003, has been Detroit’s starting goaltender since 2009, was named an NHL All-Star in 2012, and played for the U.S. Olympic team this past winter.
He played at UMaine from 2002 to 2005, earning All-American honors in 2004 after leading the Black Bears to the NCAA championship game. He set NCAA records that season for goals against average (1.19) and save percentage (.956) and holds UMaine records with 63 saves in a game, 15 career shutouts and six shutouts in a season.