The last thing Lindsay Hickmott remembers from his Nov. 9 hockey game is sitting on the bench, getting ready to take his next shift.
His next memory is waking up in an ambulance, struggling to breathe and wondering what, exactly, had happened.
Less than three weeks later, Hickmott stood in Abbotsford Fire Rescue Service’s Hall 1 with two teammates, shaking the hand of the fire chief and hearing – not for the first time – the story of how he survived to skate again.
Hickmott – a Mission resident and former hockey coach – and his Fraser Valley Cresting Wings were hoping to turn around a losing skid when they stepped onto the Centre Ice surface at 6:30 p.m. to face off against the Canex All-Scars.
The game was still young, in the first period, when Hickmott took what would be his final shift.
As the play headed up the ice, Hickmott skated by his own bench then, without warning, suddenly slumped to the ground. Teammate Ed Griffioen, who was on the bench, saw Hickmott try and hold himself up with his stick, then collapse. Griffioen thought Hickmott may have taken a hit in the corner. Wings defenceman Kirk Holt, who looked over his shoulder and saw Hickmott fall to the ice, thought maybe his teammate had stepped on something.
Hickmott stayed down, though, and when his teammates went to check on him, they found him struggling to breathe and moaning.
Griffioen described the scene to his teammate Wednesday at the fire hall.
“You were still breathing there. You said, ‘I’m going to be sick,’ then all of a sudden your eyes rolled back into your head. That’s when we couldn’t find a pulse.”
Hickmott’s heart and breathing had stopped.
But even in his dire condition – potentially minutes from death – he had several things going for him.
First, Centre Ice had an automatic external defibrillator (AED) for just such an occasion. Second, there was a fire hall just minutes away staffed by trained first responders. And finally, in Holt and Griffioen the Wings boasted two veteran firefighters who knew how to save their teammate’s life.
They slid Hickmott’s lifeless body off the ice and commenced CPR while a teammate went to retrieve the arena’s AED. After analyzing the heart, the machine – it is automatic and, according to the firefighters, easy enough for anybody to use – sent a pulse of energy through Hickmott’s body.
The electricity caused his body to jolt, but there was still no pulse.
As Holt and Griffioen continued CPR, firefighters from Hall 8, just one kilometre away, arrived on scene. They hooked another AED machine up to Hickmott – one Holt and Griffioen were more familiar with – and another burst of energy was delivered to the prone player. This time, a “sketchy pulse” returned.
Paramedics also arrived at the arena and loaded Hickmott into an ambulance. It’s there that his memory of the night picks back up.
“I was wondering why I was in the ambulance,” he said Wednesday. “It felt like I had been punched in the stomach and I couldn’t get my breath.”
After five minutes or so, he was able to calm down.
The next day, he underwent triple bypass surgery. He is now back on the road to recovery and should be in full health in three months. While he’ll likely be on medication for the rest of his life, Hickmott has even been given the green light to return to the ice.
At the hospital, Hickmott was told his heart condition was likely genetic and that he was lucky for it to have surfaced when it did.
“The surgeon said if I didn’t have these guys, then I wouldn’t have made it,” Hickmott said.
He had met Griffioen through hockey some 30 years ago.
“I never thought he would save my life,” Hickmott said.
“It’s a pretty weird thing when you have someone save your life.
“How do you repay them? I guess by saving someone else’s life…”
Holt had another idea.
“We just need more goals out of you next year,” he said with a smile.