"Disbelief" is what former Detroit Red Wings defenceman Jiri Fischer felt upon learning the news of Rich Peverley's cardiac arrest on Monday night.
Now the Red Wings director of player development, Fischer joined TSN 1050 on Tuesday to reflect on his own cardiac arrest that ended his career in 2005 and the road that lies ahead for Peverley.
During a Nov. 21, 2005 game against the Nashville Predators, a then 25-year-old Fischer collapsed on the Detroit bench and fell into cardiac arrest. After being unconscious for six minutes, he was revived through CPR and the use of a defibrillator. Fischer never played again. Monday night's incident brought back vivid memories for Fischer.
"When I compare the two [scenarios], after my cardiac arrest I watched it many times, it looks scarily similar and the way the staff reacted, leading with [Red Wings team physician] Tony Colucci, they saved my life," said Fischer. "The way Dallas staff saved Rich last night, it was impressive. They didn't hesitate. The urgency in saving his life without the panic. I really hope that anybody who goes through sudden cardiac arrest, that they get the same care. I know it's wishful thinking, but I was really impressed with what they've done in Dallas to save Rich's life."
Through Stars GM Jim Nill, a long time member of the Red Wings' front office, Fischer got Peverley's contact information on Tuesday. Fischer said he made sure to ask Nill about how Peverley's wife was coping.
"My fiancee went through the cardiac arrest with me and it's hard," explained Fischer. "It's hard for everyone who loves the survivor. In my case, it was my fiancee and my parents being overseas and then flying over a couple days later. It's hard and it's one thing to have to go through cardiac arrest, but it's another thing when people who love us have to witness it. It's a feeling of hopelessness and really wanting to help and not being able to do anything.
"It's life-changing, so I reached out to Rich and sent him a message. He wasn't available on the phone. (Back then) I didn't want to talk to anybody for days. It's chaos, so I hope that he's going to be okay and if we do chat, it will be great. It would be really nice."
Fischer related that when he went through his cardiac arrest, it was one of the first of its kind in the sporting world and there wasn't much to go on in terms of comparables. In many ways, Fischer's recovery and the decision to end his playing career were the first of its kind in the sport.
"There wasn't a sample of a thousand professional athletes who had the same condition to say you should play, you shouldn't play, everything is fine or things are no good," said Fischer. "It was a gray area and I just wanted to play and I kept playing. Obviously, with having a pre-existing condition and then going through cardiac arrest, it was just no. That decision was made by medical personnel and I have a heart abnormality and, on paper, I never cleared it and I pushed it for years and years and years. It's been eight years later now and still, the heart hasn't changed. My playing days are over."
Now 33, Fischer thinks back to the early days after his cardiac arrest and what was to become of his career and remembers becoming angered over something written by TSN's Bob McKenzie.
"I'll never forget, Bob McKenzie had an article he wrote right after my cardiac arrest that Fischer's career is over and he's never going to play again," said the Czech Republic native. "It made me angry. He was right. This guy was absolutely right. And me, the naive athlete, thinking that everything was going to be okay because people saved my life and I'm going to go back to playing. That doesn't happen in reality. Obviously, like I said [Rich and I] are different, no two situations are the same, but I know one thing: when Tony saved my life, he didn't want to go through it again. I didn't want to go through it again and the decision was made and it was made pretty quickly."
Still, Fischer thinks of all the good that has come of the fallout from his cardiac arrest and the lives that have been saved.
"To me, it's celebrating life," said Fischer. "Every tragedy is the start of something new. It's something different and something new. My incident started this whole avalanche of good things. The Heart and Stroke Foundation really got behind the cause and, eight years later, so many people have been saved because the Heart and Stroke Foundation viewed my incident as something that can help people down the road. They've placed thousands of defibrillators in public places throughout Canada and the same motions have happened through various foundations in the United States. Now there is a protocol for what needs to happen. Doctors from every NHL team, they need to be either around the locker room or really close by to the bench. Everybody in the NHL, every franchise, they have to have an external defibrillator as part of their medical equipment."
While Peverley's situation has yet to be resolved, Fischer is again hopeful.
"This is the second time around and, firstly, I really hope Rich is okay and at the same time I really hope that because this has generated so much interest, good things are going to come out of it again."