During the offseason, like so many other NHL and AHL players, Brett MacLean gets back to his roots and plays hockey locally. There's a group of guys in Owen Sound with whom the 23-year-old Phoenix Coyotes forward has played twice a week every July and August since he was in junior hockey.
Last week, they saved his life.
During a game at Regional Rec Center, MacLean collapsed suddenly onto the ice. The other players reacted, at first, like MacLean was pulling a gag, joking about it as he was sprawled on the frozen surface.
Then MacLean started to convulse. He was going into cardiac arrest.
Players Jason Gallagher and Jason Silverthorn began CPR on MacLean.
"It's not easy performing CPR on someone you know very well and not knowing the outcome," said Gallagher, who has taken CPR classes at least 10 times, to the Calgary Sun.
Jay Forslund, an off-duty firefighter, called the police and sought out the automated external defibrillator into the Regional Rec Center. Three minutes after he collapsed, his heart was shocked. When the paramedics arrived, they administered two more shocks. MacLean's pulse had returned in eight minutes.
He was airlifted to University Hospital in London, and was moved out of intensive care late last week.
"We're eternally grateful to them," Karen MacLean told the Owen Sound Sun Times. "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 thanked Gallagher when he visited MacLean in the hospital.
"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 told the Sun Times last week.
"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."
The players' life-saving moves have been lauded as a reason why automated external defibrillators should be mandatory in every rink. Their exploits even made news in Wales, where Silverthorn was a 100-point player for Cardiff.
On July 7, MacLean used his Twitter feed to thank all of his well-wishers — and his buddies from the rink.
"Great to see Jason Silverthorn today. I owe a lot to him Jason Gallagher and Jay Forslund. They helped save my life. Thank you. Slowly starting to feel better. Thank you to all the paramedics doctors and nurses who haves helped me get this far. Feeling very lucky. Also thank you to everyone for the support and well wishes. Truly means a lot to me and my family through this tough time.
"It's crazy how quickly things can change. Make sure you don't take life for granted and always make time for things you enjoy."
His mother said last Friday that Brett is "improving hourly." The family hopes tests this week will reveal the source of his cardiac arrest.
- Brett MacLean