Fischer was fortunate

KEN FIDLIN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:04 AM ET

Jiri Fischer is one of the lucky ones.

He may not necessarily feel that way, given that the future of his National Hockey League career is now in doubt, but the Detroit Red Wing defenceman definitely beat the odds.

During the first period of his team's game against the Nashville Predators on Monday, Fischer went into convulsions on the bench at Joe Louis Arena and then suffered sudden cardiac arrest.

Depending upon whose statistics you believe, anywhere between 350,000 and 500,000 North Americans go into sudden cardiac arrest while not in hospital every year. About 5% of them survive.

In seconds, expert medical aid was at Fischer's side. The training staff and the team physician, Dr. Tony Colucci, did their jobs with skill and speed. CPR was administered but it was the presence of a small, life-saving machine that probably made the difference.

It's called an automated external defibrillator and thousands of them are popping up in public places all over the world, saving -- or at least prolonging -- lives everywhere. The newest of these portable machines are just about idiot-proof and can be operated by just about anybody.

If you're out and about in a public place just about anywhere, there's probably one not far away. They're in schools, office buildings, government facilities, golf courses ... you name it.

And don't be surprised if you hear about a spike in sales of these little lifesavers after the chilling scene at Joe Louis Arena was beamed into homes to horrified viewers.

"It was stomach-turning," Maple Leafs forward Darcy Tucker said after practice yesterday. "It was a shock for everybody. Guys you play against or play with, all you care about is that he makes it through.

"Who cares about hockey when something like that happens?"

That clearly was the sentiment of just about everybody in Detroit on Monday night. Even after Fischer's heart resumed beating and he was taken to hospital, nobody had much stomach to continue the game. It will be replayed at a later date.

Yesterday, the news was positive. Fischer is in stable condition, alert and communicating with family and medical staff. Whether or not he ever will play hockey again is an issue for another day.

What's important is that he still is alive to work through his own future. All because of an alert medical staff and a heart-saving machine.

"I wonder if we have one of those things?" Tie Domi said at yesterday's practice.

"I'll be lobbying for it if we don't," Tucker said.

Not to fear. The Leafs' training and medical staff is all over that one.

DEFIBRILLATOR ON BENCH

They have a defibrillator on the bench for all practices and games, a resuscitation set-up next to the dressing room that mimics emergency-room standards and, at every game, there are two paramedics with equipment at ice level.

Though it's quite unrelated to Fischer's condition, Leafs defenceman Karel Pilar has resumed skating recently, after suffering a third bout of viral myopathy, a condition of the heart muscle. Another high draft pick of several years ago, Luca Cereda, was diagnosed with a heart condition that was surgically repaired. He now is playing in Switzerland.

"Our organization's obligation is to understand as best we can," Leafs coach Pat Quinn said. "We accidentally found a condition (in Cereda) and obviously their health takes absolute priority. There are probably guys on every team who have something like that."

One of those was Sergei Zholtok, who played for the Predators, among other teams, during his NHL career and suffered from an irregular heartbeat.

During the lockout, he went back to his native Latvia to play for Riga. Almost a year to the day before Fischer's life-affirming incident, Zholtok went into cardiac arrest in his Riga team's dressing room late in a game.

In a situation where seconds, not just minutes, would make all the difference, there was no rapid response team. And no modern, portable defibrillator.

Zholtok, not one of the lucky ones, died clutching the hand of best friend and teammate Darby Hendrickson.


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