Few people have gone where Gordon Hedges has, and come back.
At some point during the night of April 9, 2012 — he died.
Gordon, a 52-year-old Canada Revenue Agency employee, was playing pickup hockey with a bunch of buddies in Twin Rinks that night when he suddenly dropped to the ice. He’d suffered from a sudden cardiac arrest. His heart stopped beating and he was, essentially, dead.
Three months later, sitting comfortably in his family’s St. John’s home with his wife Sharon close by, Gordon struggled to find the words to describe the experience.
It’s not something he likes thinking about.
So it wasn’t until weeks after that night — after a quintuple heart bypass surgery, dozens of checkups and countless tears and prayers — that he finally allowed himself to think about it.
He’d been out for a walk when the big questions finally hit him.
“Why did this happen to me? And why did I survive?” he asked.
Only a few weeks before his own heart attack, an acquaintance had suffered a similar fate. That man wasn’t so lucky.
Why did that man die and he lived, asked Hedges.
He’s never been able to come up with a good answer.
“The only thing I can come up with is that the right people were in the right place at the right time. That’s how it happened,” Hedges said.
Sharon adds one more thought.
“I really believe in …,” (she points up). “The higher power. Without Him, he wouldn’t be here,” she said.
The Telegram first reported Gordon’s story April 11. His name was withheld at that time out of respect for the family’s wishes.
He decided to come forward now so he could publicly thank everyone who helped him and his family.
“You don’t realize how many friends you have,” said Sharon.
“That’s what kept us going, more than the medication,” added Gordon.
There are certainly a lot of people who deserve thanks, he added, because keeping him alive was a group effort.
After Gordon collapsed, his fellow hockey players went for help. Someone called an ambulance. Somebody else ran screaming for anyone who knew CPR.
As fate would have it, Dr. Randy Smith, a former emergency room physician, was watching hockey in the opposite rink.
Smith came running. He and a Twin Rinks staffer used one of the two automated external defibrillators (AEDs) in the rink to jumpstart Gordon’s heart. They kept up CPR for several minutes until the paramedics showed up.
Gordon was taken to the Health Sciences Centre and stayed there for three weeks.
It’s hard for him to believe it all started out as a normal day.
At least, he’s been told it was a normal day. He has a two-week gap in his memory.
The last thing he remembers is from a week before his heart attack. His memory picks up again the Friday after he was taken to hospital.
He’s thankful for the blank slate.
“How close I was to actually not making it? I don’t really know and I don’t really want to dwell on it,” he said.
He remembers waking up in a hospital bed. His son was sitting next to him.
Where was I? What was I doing there? he thought.
The details were explained to him slowly.
“It was scary. I didn’t know what the prognosis was. Nobody knew yet at the time,” he said.
Device to the rescue
Back then, even though nobody knew if Gordon would live or die, the doctors all seemed to agree that the rink’s AED was the only thing that had kept him alive long enough to get him to the hospital.
In The Telegram’s earlier story about the incident, Smith said as much.
“Without that, I don’t think there would have been a chance in hell,” he said.
Doctors at the Health Sciences Centre reiterated that to Sharon once Gordon was out of danger.
AEDs are about the size of a shoebox and can produce an electric shock strong enough to jumpstart a human heart. The process is almost entirely automatic. They even speak to whoever is using them, walking the person through the process.
Following the heart-related deaths of two people in local hockey rinks in 2009, the Heart and Stroke Foundation started a provincial campaign to equip arenas with AEDs. Twin Rinks got one of those devices and purchased another.
These devices should be anywhere people are physically active, said Gordon.
“According to Dr. Smith, I wouldn’t be here today without it,” he said.
The Heart and Stroke Foundation states that there about 45,000 cardiac arrests in Canada every year. If an AED is used on one of those people immediately, their chances of survival are increased by 30 per cent.
In some cases, there is no warning.
Gordon had none.
“Not an ache or a pain,” he said, shaking his head.
“Not even heartburn.”
Back on the ice
It was touch and go, but Gordon is now on the mend. He’s even been cleared to play hockey again.
He visited his surgeon for the last time in June. He’s still got to get a checkup from a cardiologist and has started his rehabilitation therapy.
“We’re getting through it. It’s been rough,” said Sharon, through tears.
“But like I said, we’ve got the support of friends and family. You’d never be able to get through it on your own.”
That first skate back on the ice is going to be tough, remarked Gordon, but he’s thankful he’ll be able to do it.
“It’s going to be nervous, not only for me, but for the guys I’m going to be playing with. Especially when I go back for the first time with the guys that were playing that night. They are going to be pretty nervous,” he said.
“But I’ve been playing hockey for 45 years. I wanna get back to it.
“But it’s not a league; it’s just a bunch of friends. And I told the b’ys, I’d give up hockey tomorrow, but I can’t give up the dressing room after. That’s where all the fun is to.”
Hockey is still several months away. In the meantime, he intends to enjoy life with a renewed sense of urgency.
Today is his birthday.
Birthday cards have started to overtake the “get well soon” cards on the mantel.
And the Hedges even have a vacation in the works.
They’re going to Las Vegas. And they’re hoping their luck will hold out a little while longer.