LOS ANGELES – Geoff Ward still vividly remembers when he came to after lying unconscious on the arena floor following a collapse from an irregular heartbeat.
“I woke up, saying to the trainer, ‘would you stop punching on my chest?’” recalls the Calgary Flames interim coach of his most recent episode of cardiac arrest, just three years back.
“Same thing happened to me that happened to Bo (Jay Bouwmeester). It was after practice in (New) Jersey and I was sitting in the coaches’ office and I felt it flip. So I went to see the trainer and told him, ‘my heart just flipped and I’m not feeling very good.’ He said, ‘come on, I’ll put ya on the table,’ and when I got up, I went down.”
And down he stayed for several terrifying minutes while Devils trainer Kevin Morley worked feverishly to revive the then 54-year-old.
Ward and the rest of the hockey world watched an eerily similar moment unfold during the first period of the St. Louis Blues-Anaheim Ducks game Tuesday night when Bouwmeester collapsed on the bench while reaching for his water bottle following a lengthy shift.
First responders used a defibrillator to help the 36-year-old regain consciousness before he was taken to hospital. The game was postponed.
Bouwmeester remained at UC Irvine Medical Center on Wednesday, where he underwent tests to try to determine why he experienced the cardiac episode.
“Episodes like that are always scary,” said Ward, who was quick to send his thoughts and prayers to Bouwmeester and his family.
“Not only scary for the individual, but scary for his teammates, and the other team and the fans in the stands.
You never, ever want to see a guy go through something like that. But you can trust the first responders are there and they do a good job and make it a lot easier on the players knowing they have real good professionals there to help if there is a case like that.”
If anyone else in the Flames organization knows what it feels like to be lying in a hospital bed, piecing together your memory of a traumatic episode while various tests are being run, it’s T.J. Brodie.
Brodie collapsed and started convulsing during a Flames practice on Nov. 14, prompting team medical staff to race onto the ice to stabilize him while teammates looked on in horror.
“A lot goes through your head — you’re wondering if it’s something bigger, and then the thoughts of, ‘Am I going to be able to continue playing? Or not? Or is it something serious where you have to hang ’em up?’” said the 29-year-old Brodie on Wednesday, following the Flames’ morning skate at Staples Center.
“It puts things into perspective and how quickly things can change.”
Brodie spent parts of three seasons playing alongside Bouwmeester in Calgary and learned of his episode when he woke up Wednesday.
“I don’t really know what the cause is or if it’s similar or not, but it’s always scary when something like that happens.” said Brodie, who was discharged from hospital later in the day of his incident, returning to the lineup almost two weeks later.
“I hope it’s nothing serious and I wish him all the best.”
Ward said his two cardiac episodes opened his eyes to how many other people around the league are affected by similar problems.
“My first one, I had (five years ago), my heart just flipped and it was in arrhythmia for a long period of time, so they had to put me under and paddle me to get my heart rate back to normal,” said Ward, who got a hospital several hours after recognizing symptoms.
“You can feel it, like a compression on your chest. I had just flown back from Germany. My triggers are when I’m dehydrated or if I’m tired. Both my episodes came after long flights. Talking to the doctors, they say alcohol can play a factor in it. He actually told me it’s amazing how many college kids now will have it because they’ll go out on drinking binges on the weekend. They’ll see a lot of A-fib situations from college kids because they drink too much.”
Ward has since undergone cardiac ablation, a procedure on tissue in the heart that sends electrical signals causing abnormal heart rhythm. He hasn’t had an episode since.
Brodie said his experience was so eye-opening that it’s affected the way he looks at life and the game of hockey, allowing him not to sweat the little things as much.
“I feel like I’ve been better, and I think some of that is just relaxing and having fun,” said Brodie of his improved play.
“Sometimes when you put too much pressure on yourself or you care too much, sometimes it goes the opposite way. Sometimes, it’s better to just be relaxed out there.”
Asked what the final diagnosis was on what triggered his episode, Brodie shrugged.
“They said just a combination of different things — low blood sugar, low blood-pressure … just a fluke thing, I guess,” he said.
“It’s almost like fainting and when that happens, sometimes I guess you seize. Hopefully, it was a one-off and it doesn’t happen again.”