To help raise awareness of heart health during American Heart Month and National Hockey Week across America, we are dedicating this blog series to the stories of the players and coaches who suffered and survived life threatening cardiac events. This installation, we will be focusing on the story of a Michigan firefighter and avid hockey player who survived cardiac arrest.
Seven years ago, retired Grand Haven Public Safety Sgt. Randy Poel was playing hockey in hisregular competitive Sunday night beer league when he collapsed on the ice. After two minutes, he completely stopped breathing and CPR was initiated. An Automated External Defibrillator (AED) was used to shock his heart twice in an attempt to convert his heartbeat into a survivable rhythm. It took 6 and a half minutes to get his heartbeat back.
Fortunately, the paramedics arrived and took him to the hospital where he proceeded to have open-heart surgery to have a single bi-pass procedure.
"The best advice I can give is to listen to your body," Poel said. "If something doesn't feel right, stop the 'tough man' mentality and get checked by a physician. Lingering fatigue, minor shortness of breath, tightness in the chest similar to a cold without the cough or a feeling of minor pain in the chest are all signs you need to get checked out. For me, it was simply feeling 'crappy' the day I went into cardiac arrest. I thought I was just coming down with the flu and that I would skate it out!"
Poel was back out on the ice four months after the major operation, and is happy to say that he continues to play hockey at the age of 55, seven years after the incident. He also is starting his 33rd year coaching football at Grand Haven High School, and continues to work part time as a Marine Patrol Deputy with the Ottawa County Sheriff's Office and as a Firefighter/EMT with Grand Haven Township Fire and Rescue.
Throughout his inspirational recovery, Poel has been active in his community by placing AED's throughout local businesses and ice rinks, in the case of a sudden cardiac arrest. In the first twoyears of his fundraising, over $34,000 was raised to help his cause. To date, Poel and his wife have placed over 60 AED's throughout their community.
"Having an AED on the sidelines or on the bench is more important than having a doctor there. Perfect CPR cannot convert a heart that goes into a non-survivable rhythm, only a shock can dothat," Poel said. "Educate yourself first and foremost by becoming trained in CPR/AED. Coaches should get First Aid trained. Talk to your teams and make sure they understand the difference between someone having difficulty breathing or actually going into cardiac arrest."
For more information on how to get CPR certified and AED trained, go to American Heart Association. If you have an inspirational hockey story, we would love to hear it! Post it in the comments below.