Soccer

Retired goalkeeper Karina LeBlanc 'stronger' following separation from newborn daughter

Karina LeBlanc was returning home from her second hospital visit after giving birth to her first child, only this time she would have to spend 14 days in self-isolation after doctors feared she contracted COVID-19 during her stay.

1st-time mother spent 17 days away from family after heart failure, COVID-19 scare

Retired Canadian women's soccer goalkeeper Karina LeBlanc, pictured with husband Jason Mathot, was reunited with her daughter, Paris, on April 17. They were separated for 17 days after LeBlanc spent two nights in hospital following heart failure and was self-isolated for two weeks when doctors feared she contracted the coronavirus. (@karinaleblanc/Twitter)

It was bigger than any moment or game through her 17 years as a goalkeeper for the Canadian national women's soccer team.

Karina LeBlanc was returning to her home in the Bahamas from her second hospital visit in a little more than a week after giving birth to her first child on March 24, only this time she would have to spend 14 days in self-isolation after doctors feared she contracted the coronavirus during her two-night stay.

"For so long, my life was about the game of soccer and all of a sudden this was so much bigger than a game. It was life and death," LeBlanc recalled about the night her husband Jason Mathot drove to the hospital while his wife struggled to breathe sitting alongside their daughter, Paris. LeBlanc was unaware she was experiencing heart failure.

"As athletes, we know our bodies, and I knew something was off," said LeBlanc, who won 110 caps for Canada and retired in 2015 as the second-longest serving member of the women's national team. "I went from struggling to breathe to, 'Oh my God, am I going to die?' Am I going to see Paris grow up?' I was overloaded with fear."

WATCH | Karina LeBlanc details 'difficult' isolation period:

The 2x Olympic goalkeeper opens up about her incredible story after the birth of her first-born. 6:34

After a CT scan, doctors told the 40-year-old LeBlanc she had pleural effusion, or an unusual amount of fluid around the lungs, brought on by heart failure. Pleura are thin membranes that line the lungs and inside of the chest cavity and act to lubricate and facilitate breathing.

With the Bahamas in lockdown due to the pandemic, Jason spent the next four hours with a quiet Paris in the hospital parking lot before heading home after learning his wife would be staying in hospital.

"I got a taste of her and then it was gone," LeBlanc, who is American-Canadian, told Jacqueline Doorey of CBC Sports during a Zoom call on Monday.

Parenting with husband through FaceTime

While Paris' voice tugged at her mother's emotions as she lay in bed after returning home, LeBlanc quickly realized the difficulties of coping with the situation. She would cry because of the hormones, watching her daughter through glass in a door, unable to get overly emotional as a rise in blood pressure could mean another trip to the hospital.

To keep occupied, she wrote her thoughts in a journal and parented with Jason through FaceTime.

"It was difficult, but a lot of strength came from my faith and from other people reaching out," said LeBlanc, who had a strong support group, led by Jason — whom she married in October 2016 — along with family and former teammates.

"Writing a journal [is] what got me through a lot of this because in the first couple of days I was emotional. The days felt like 80 hours and I was just trying to find my happy medium."

On April 17, LeBlanc and her daughter were reunited after 17 days. Holding Paris again, she noted, was so powerful, the "best moment."

A two-time Olympian who won a bronze medal in 2012 at the London Games, LeBlanc believes she battled the virus to be stronger and "I'm stronger for the next chapter in my life, whether that's for motherhood or for me to share [my] story again."

'Paris has been our light'

Jason, a midfielder in his soccer-playing days, was "blown away" by how Paris took to her mom immediately upon reconnecting.

"There was no hesitation," he said. "It was an immediate connection, and beautiful to watch."

WATCH | Jason Mathot on parenting solo as LeBlanc recovered:

Jason Mathot, also a Team Canada soccer veteran, on first days raising daughter alone and their reunion. 2:37
"Paris has been our light," added LeBlanc, who was named to the Canada Soccer Hall of Fame on Feb. 5. "I hope a lot of people have a Paris in their life to make them smile through this [pandemic] and be happy."

During last year's women's World Cup in France, LeBlanc was based in Paris for 45 days as an analyst with Fox Sports and decided to name her first child after the capital city.

"Travelling the world, it's [Jason and my] top-three favourite cities and that's where she was conceived," LeBlanc said while holding Paris in her arms. "It was a World Cup showing the strength of women, the power of women and what women can do in this world. We want her to believe she can do anything.

"I'm moving forward wanting to be the best version of myself for [Paris] so she sees a woman that makes her proud. I want her to say, 'That's what a woman should be' and she surpasses that."

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To celebrate mother's day we had 3 Olympic moms (Mandy Bujold, Meaghan Mikkelson, Melissa Bishop-Nriagu) face each other in a battle of will and perseverance. Bishop-Nriagu had the fastest time over 5 events. Can you beat it? 1:46

About the Author

Doug Harrison has covered the professional and amateur scene as a senior writer for CBC Sports since 2003. Previously, the Burlington, Ont., native covered the NHL and other leagues for Faceoff.com. Follow the award-winning journalist @harrisoncbc

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