By Mark Squibb/February 3, 2023
A night of fun could have turned tragic if not for the quick action of a group of rec league hockey players in Conception Bay South.
Andrew Swain, a native of Calvert who now calls Foxtrap home, had played hockey all his life, but hadn’t strapped on his skates in a few years when he decided to join a men’s rec league that plays Monday nights at the Robert French Memorial Stadium this past fall.
Swain was giving it his all and having a good time with the boys, when he started to feel a little off. He didn’t think much of it and chalked it up to exertion.
The next thing he remembers is laying on the floor of a players’ box looking up at the face of a paramedic.
Though Swain doesn’t remember much of what happened, his fellow players do.
Chris Mercer and Trevor Blackler, who were sitting on the bench with Swain, were perhaps the first to notice something was amiss.
“You were sitting next to me on the bench, and you were telling us you weren’t feeling well,” Blackler recalls. “And we kind of laughed a little bit to be honest… next thing I heard a little clunk , and I looked up, and you had fallen forward, and I think you had probably hit your head, and you were lying in a pile on the floor. I went over to you, and then Chris and I started yelling at everyone to stop because something was on the go. Everything else went pretty quick from there.”
Without a moment’s hesitation, skaters Mark Maloney, Richard Martin, and Mitch Murphy made a beeline for the stadium’s automated external defibrillator (AED).
Because Swain had fallen in the team box and not on open ice, the guys couldn’t strip him of his gear but instead had to use a box cutter courtesy of stadium worker Terry Jordan to cut off his pads so they could apply the AED.
Maloney, a firefighter with the Holyrood department well versed with the AED, took over and the boys on the bench alternated between issuing electric charges and CPR.
Meanwhile, an ambulance had been called, but most players still had no idea who Swain was, as it was his first night suited up with the league.
Mercer coordinated efforts to uncover Swain’s identity and reach his wife by first searching social media and then, once Swain’s phone was found, trying to phone his relatives — a task made more difficult by the poor cellular service in the area.
When the ambulance arrived, paramedics worked on Swain for a few more minutes before driving him to the hospital.
The players were left shaken, and needless to say the game went unfinished. But the harrowing moment has become a learning experience. Several players say that following the incident, they’ve updated their emergency contacts on their cell phones so their loved ones can be easily reached in case anything goes amiss. One player even bought an AED of his own.
Swain meanwhile has made a recovery and is doing well.
He doesn’t have medical clearance to play hockey yet, but he still drops by the stadium on Monday nights to see the boys who saved his life.
“I don’t remember who did what, but they all hold a spot in my heart,” said Swain. “I’ll be forever in debt to them.”
He said his first time stepping back into the locker room to meet with the boys was pretty emotional.
“I didn’t even know any of them, except maybe three or four,” said Swain. “I was going back into a room of strangers and saying,’ Thank you for saving my life.’ I went in and I gave them a spiel from the heart, and I said, ‘I don’t know what you did or who did what, but you saved my life.’”
Swain, a father of two young boys, sometimes can’t help but wonder what would have happened had he suffered the cardiac arrest anywhere else, or with any other group.
“The cardiologist looked at me and said I won the lottery,” said Swain.
He said he wanted to publicly acknowledge the men who saved his life, but also remind people of the importance of familiarising themselves with AEDs, including where to find them in public buildings.
“I played lots of hockey in lots of rinks, and I passed by the AEDS and I never thought of them,” said Swain. “It never came to my mind to look for them.”
Several players claimed that three people now owe their lives to the Robert French AED machine. The most publicised incident was when an 11-year-old boy was brought to by the AED in November 2016, after suffering a sudden cardiac arrest.
The provincial government chose the stadium as the site of an announcement of $100,000 in funding for the Heart and Stroke Foundation earmarked for the installation of AEDs in public spaces throughout the province back in 2017.