Putting his heart in cause

ERIC FRANCIS -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:03 AM ET

The expression on Jiri Fischer's face doesn't change when asked if he remembers how close he came to dying rinkside almost two years ago.

"I did die," begins the former Red Wings defenceman, "so I guess I didn't have to think about it."

Although he remembers bits and pieces of the evening that saw the first NHL game in history postponed due to 'injury,' Fischer has no recollection of the 45-minute drama that saw him flatline for more than 30 seconds while doctors scrambled to restart his heart.

Collapsing on the bench following a routine shift, Fischer regained consciousness thanks to medical staff that used an Automated External Defibrillator (AED) to stop his shaking heart, followed by CPR to re-start it.

What most hockey fans don't know is he suffered two more heart attacks while resting at home over the following two weeks. The defibrillator vest he wore up until two months ago showed his heart rate exceeded 250 beats per minute both times.

"Those three attacks are usually fatal, but for some reason, I'm still trying to figure out why they weren't for me," said Fischer, in Calgary yesterday to share his story as a spokesman for the Heart and Stroke Foundation.

"Maybe it's because I was in better shape than the average cardiac patient, but somehow, my heart regulated itself. That was a scary time because I could feel my heart beating. It was actually shaking and no blood was going through my body."

Told by doctors he'll never play again, the 6-ft.-5, 230-lb. picture of health has spent the last two years searching for reasons why his heart went ballistic. After undergoing several tests and exhaustive research, he's convinced it had to do with a series of metabolic disturbances he's identified.

He's also convinced it won't happen again and that he'll one day make a return to the league in which he won a Stanley Cup in 2002.

"I'm 27 years old, so why give up? I'm still below the league average," smiled the well-spoken first-rounder from the Czech Republic.

"My exercise routine is still not where it used to be but now I'm finally getting closer to pushing it to the max and there are none of the side effects."

Although he and GM Ken Holland examined the possibility of a comeback this fall, he instead accepted a player development role with the club.

He's also dedicated himself to joining a cause Don Cherry made famous by insisting AEDs are made more prevalent in rinks and buildings everywhere.

"It's important to me because they are probably why I'm still here today -- it essentially saved my life with CPR and the medical staff," said Fischer, who was recently married and had a son.

That harrowing night as the hockey world looked on, Fischer's heartbeat resumed after six minutes of unconsciousness, defying the odds. Heart and Stroke officials say chances of survival decrease 10% with every passing minute, making it crucial AEDs are not only present but easy to access. Almost 95% of the 40,000 Canadians who suffer cardiac arrest die annually, but many can be saved with an easy-to-use portable defibrillator and easy-to-learn CPR.

"When you talk about heroes, people talk about athletes and movie stars," said Alberta Heart and Stroke Foundation CEO Diane Krecsy. "You want to be a hero? Learn CPR and how to use an AED -- you could save someone's life. People remember Jiri as a player, but this will be his legacy."


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