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His heart will go on 'If I can help others... it's all worth it'

Former NHLer hoping to save lives after nearly losing his

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TORONTO -- Brett MacLean was in the prime of his life.

Just 23 years old and coming off a 25-goal season in the American Hockey League, MacLean was working towards a full-time spot with the Phoenix Coyotes this summer when he joined some friends in Owen Sound, Ont., for a pick-up game.

Little did he know, it would be the last time he pulled on skates as a professional.

"I remember going to the arena and going on the ice and that's it," MacLean said during a recent interview. "I guess 40 minutes in I made a pass and just collapsed."

He was experiencing sudden cardiac arrest. In top physical shape, and with no history of heart disease, MacLean's life hung in the balance. The survival rate in Canada for out-of-hospital cardiac arrests is just five per cent.

Fortunately for MacLean, there were people around who started acting quickly. Two fellow players performed CPR until a local firefighter could retrieve the arena's automatic external defibrillator -- better known as an AED -- and shock him back to life.

Paramedics soon arrived and he was eventually airlifted to a hospital in London.

The miracle that saved his life was accompanied by news that he'd have to end his hockey career. With the cause of MacLean's cardiac arrest unknown, doctors inserted an implantable cardiac defibrillator, which will monitor his heart for abnormalities and prevent him from participating in contact sports.

However, MacLean had vowed to turn his experience into something positive before he was even discharged from hospital.

He quickly made contact with the Heart and Stroke Foundation through his Twitter account and took part in the launch of the charity's new awareness campaign last week in downtown Toronto.

"The more people that know CPR, the more lives we're going to save," said MacLean.

One of the lasting memories he'll take from the experience is the outpouring of support he received from the hockey community. MacLean called it "overwhelming."

A former second-round pick of the Coyotes, he realized his childhood dream of playing in the NHL during a 13-game stint with Phoenix in 2010-11 and five games with the Winnipeg Jets at the start of last season.

He was eventually reclaimed on waivers by Phoenix and spent the rest of the year with AHL Portland.

"We still held out some hope that he could help us down the road," said Coyotes GM Don Maloney. "Unfortunately, that's not going to happen. But the good thing is he's healthy and he can get on with his life."

MacLean is doing just that. Equally as amazing as his life being saved is his willingness to move forward and not feel sorry for himself.

"When I was in the hospital, I had a tough time with why this happened to me," said MacLean. "I've worked hard my whole life and I've eaten well and done the right things. ... But now I look at it like at least I'm still here and at least I'm healthy.

"I'm looking at the bright side. If I can help other people in the future then it's all worth it."

 

-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 10, 2012 C7

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