Brett MacLean on the mend, mom says

Phoenix Coyote left-winger Brett Maclean, a native of Port Elgin, holds a signed jersey with Pier...

Phoenix Coyote left-winger Brett Maclean, a native of Port Elgin, holds a signed jersey with Pier Donnini, owner of the Queen's Bar and Grill. (Shawn Sutherland/QMI Agency)

TRACEY RICHARDSON, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:02 PM ET

OWEN SOUND, ONT. - Pro hockey player Brett MacLean is conscious and talking and took his first steps Friday, his mother Karen MacLean said Friday afternoon.

The 23-year-old Phoenix Coyotes prospect was playing hockey in Owen Sound Monday when he suddenly collapsed on the ice and had to be revived with CPR and an automated external defibrillator machine. He was airlifted to University Hospital in London after being stabilized in Owen Sound. Thursday he was moved out of intensive care and remains in coronary care.

Karen MacLean said her son is aware of what happened but has no recollection of his near-death experience.

"I think he's really in shock," she said Friday via cellphone. "When he woke up he had no recollection of how he got here, and so I think he's still trying to digest what exactly did happen, how significant it was, and obviously for what his future holds."

But she said his recovery is "coming along beautifully."

The family, who hails from Port Elgin, has been by Brett's side since Monday night. Karen and Ray MacLean were on vacation east of Algonquin Park when they got the call about their son Monday. They immediately drove back to Owen Sound and were able to see him briefly before he was airlifted to London.

She described the news as shocking.

"We're doing better as he gets better. It was difficult and very shocking. He's a young man and we were shocked and frightened for him. But we see changes in him every few hours, so we're very positive and we're very very grateful."

Karen MacLean said her son is improving hourly and began walking the hospital halls Friday. He's still undergoing diagnostic tests to determine what prompted his heart to stop suddenly. More tests are expected next week. Until results are known, the family is unsure of his prognosis or when he will be released from hospital.

The MacLeans only began learning the details of the efforts to save their son's life on Friday. When Brett collapsed on the ice, fellow players Jason Gallagher and Jason Silverthorn immediately began performing CPR. Firefighter Jay Forslund, who was in the stands, called 911 and retrieved the recreation centre's portable defibrillator machine.

Within three minutes of his collapse, Brett's heart was shocked. Paramedics arrived and shocked him two more times to restart his heart.

"We're eternally grateful to them," Karen said of those who helped. "Jason (Gallagher) was just here and we were able to thank him, but thanking them really doesn't do it justice. We can't express how grateful we are for everything they did."

MacLean said she was thankful that so many things fell into place to keep her son alive.

"Absolutely there's no question, his outcome is partially related to his good health and his strong fit body, but also because of the attention by the bystanders, the defibrillator machine and the ambulance," she said.

"Initially we were so shocked and our focus was on getting through the first few days, and the fear and all that goes around that. But now as he's improving, it's more about, can we find out what happened. As he's getting better, you start to think about all the people you need to get in touch with. Maybe we'll turn on a TV and get out of the hospital."

She said her son returns to the area every summer and plays hockey with the same group of guys twice a week in July and August. She hopes he'll be out of hospital later next week.

"He likes the area and misses his friends and family. He's come back to Port Elgin to do his training locally and has been out with that hockey group every summer for skating."

Gallagher, who visited his friend in hospital Friday, called it a miracle to see him alive and doing well.

"Remarkable, a miracle. No other word to describe it. The last time I saw him, he had no vital signs and we were performing CPR on him. And within a few days he's walking around and shaking my hand," Gallagher said Friday afternoon. "I can't emphasize how incredible it is what our medical professionals are able to do, because literally on Monday night, he had no vital signs, and this is Friday morning and he's up walking around. I'm still in awe."

Gallagher had a few words with Brett Friday morning, shook his hand, told him he looked good and gave him a card signed by his hockey buddies in Owen Sound.

"That kind of overwhelmed him a bit. It was overwhelming for me too, seeing how good he looked, to be honest."

Gallagher said it was shocking and scary seeing his buddy lying lifeless on the ice.

"It's not easy performing CPR on someone you know very well and not knowing the outcome," he said, describing it as very emotional.

Gallagher, a teacher, said he's taken CPR and first aid courses about 10 times, and said most people never know if they're going to put it into practice.

"Keep taking those courses and keep putting those defibs in place, because to save one life every 10 years, it's all worth it," he said.

Gallagher said the hockey group played Thursday night for the first time since Brett's medical crisis. He described the mood in the room as buoyant.

"The guys were pretty upbeat. It's pretty hard to explain. It was all heavy on our hearts for sure, because Brett's been playing with us since he started playing junior hockey. For some of us, that's been a long time playing together."

He said the group is grateful "that such a good guy pulled through. Every day it's a miracle."

Gallagher said he's had a lot of response and support from rec centre staff and Family Y staff, and people around town have been asking about Brett. Hockey players who've played with the group in the past have been texting him, including Edmonton Oilers player Theo Peckham, who used to play with the group.

The hockey community "is one big family for sure."

tracey.richardson@sunmedia.ca


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