Jarmo Stromberg doubts he would be alive today if it hadn’t been for a nearby public access defibrillator machine and the quick thinking of hockey players he was shooting puck with.
The 61-year-old suffered sudden cardiac arrest while playing a morning match of “Huff-and-Puff” hockey with others at the Western Fair Sports Centre on Oct. 19.
Officials from the London Fire Department, Middlesex-London EMS, Heart and Stroke Foundation, and the city were on hand Wednesday as Stromberg was reunited with his rescuers at the same facility where the incident took place.
The group had only been playing for a short period of time when Stromberg says he collapsed onto the ice.
“I went to the bench after the third shift, and just had a little dizzy spell but nothing major, after that I don’t remember a thing,” said Stromberg, who works as a London real estate broker. “I basically woke up from the deepest sleep ever … my eyes kind of focused and I realized I was surrounded by about a dozen hockey players all looking down at me.”
It wasn’t until later that day that Stromberg fully learned what had happened. Stromberg says his defence partner, Gary Shaw, a retired firefighter, filled him in with the details that night at the hospital.
“He said we were on the bench having a nice chat, I went out and did my fourth shift, carried the puck up the ice, made a pass, he said he looked over and said “nice pass” as I face planted on the blue line all by myself,” Stromberg said.
Within moments, Stromberg, who was without pulse and wasn’t breathing, was being tended to by other players, several of whom had backgrounds in emergency services. Of the players who came to Stromberg’s aid, one was an off-duty London fire captain, three were recently retired fire captains, and one, an old friend of Stromberg’s, was a former Mountie.
Stromberg says Shaw recalled to him that one player ran to grab a public access defibrillator while another began to perform CPR.
“When the defibrillator got there they shocked me, and I guess within a minute I was full pulse and started coming out of it,” Stromberg said. “I was chatting with the boys not two-three minutes later.”
The cause of the episode is being blamed on scar tissue from a heart attack suffered four years ago, he said.
“He went probably without breathing for at least a minute and a half, two minutes, before CPR commenced,” said Chet Couture, a London fire captain who was playing that day and helped tend to Stromberg. “The act of CPR can actually help air come in and out of the lungs. As a result of the CPR being commenced so quickly, he didn’t suffer any brain damage.”
When fire crews and paramedics arrived on scene, Stromberg was already defibrillated and able to skate off the rink to a waiting ambulance, said London Fire District Chief Al Braatz.
“I’ve responded to many, many scenes for heart events, assisting EMS with [the Public Access Defibrillator Program]. Often times we rarely, rarely see an event where someone recovers so quickly.”
Braatz says Stromberg was incredibly fortunate to have been playing hockey with the group he was, and adds the incident is proof the Public Access Defibrillator Program works.
“It is absolutely immense that people get involved with it,” Braatz said. “Certainly Jarmo’s life would not have been saved without it.”
While public access defibrillators are becoming more and more common in public places, there’s still a long way to go, said Jennifer Hassan, Area Program Coordinator for the Heart and Stroke Foundation.
Making the machines as commonplace across the country as fire extinguishers is a big goal of the Foundation, she said.
“Eighty-one thousand that we’ve funded and placed in Ontario sounds like a big number, but really it’s not, compared to what’s out there, so that’s something that we continue to raise funds for,” Hassan said. “Each machine costs between $4000 and $8000, depending, so it’s quite expensive, however, it’s worth even to save one life like we did here.”
Stromberg says he is in good shape and plays a minimum of 100 hockey games a year. He’s now recovering at home and has an ICD, implantable cardiovascular defibrillator, installed in his chest. By all accounts, he says, he should be back playing hockey in about a month.