It was the soccer game that no one else who was present can forget, but Allan Robertson has no memory of most of it. He was feeling fine that day, but unbeknownst to him, he had an underlying serious health condition that was about to rear its head.
“I’ve played soccer for 24 years, twice a week. I’m in reasonable shape,” he said. “There’s a lot of people in better shape than me but a lot of people in worse shape.”
The 57-year-old St. Albert man had just taken the field at an indoor pitch in south Edmonton on Nov. 14. He likes to play a couple of recreational pickup games each week with whoever else shows up. By all accounts, it was shaping up to be just a regular game, with Robertson on defence.
“The guy playing goal behind me said, ‘You put your head down, and you started walking toward the bench. You fell to your knees and then you fell on the side of your head’.”
“I remember the warm-up and nothing after that,” he said.
In otherwise good health and with no family history to indicate it, he had suffered a cardiac arrest, a heart attack.
According to the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada, most of these events take place at home or in public where they are witnessed by others. Luckily, one of Robertson’s teammates was an off-duty emergency medical technician (EMT). Even more luckily, the soccer facility had a portable automated external defibrillator (AED).
Performing CPR and using an AED before emergency medical technicians arrive can increase the chance of survival by up to 75 per cent.
That teammate, Matt Austin, saw that Robertson wasn’t breathing and couldn’t feel his pulse. He began cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). Someone called 911 while the AED was fetched. These devices have found homes in a growing number of sports facilities, including Servus Credit Union Place and Fountain Park Recreation Centre. They are self-explanatory with easy to follow directions. It tells you what to do.
“He put the paddles on me and it’ll tell you whether to shock me. It said, ‘Shock’ so he shocked me. He did CPR on me again and he finally got a response from me and I just let out a big sigh. He had revived me, within about four minutes, he figures.”
The ambulance arrived afterward and took him to the hospital where it was discovered he has a heart muscle abnormality called hypertrophic cardiomyopathy that makes it harder for blood to leave the heart. It is often a genetic condition, so Robertson’s children have already signed up to be checked out.
The standard mode of thinking is that there is only a three to five minute window for someone to be revived successfully with a minimum of adverse effects. This necessitates bystander intervention in order to beat the odds.
“I’m extremely fortunate that there was an EMT – who knew what to do – that I was playing with, and that there was a defibrillator right there,” said Robertson, also giving high praise to the arriving EMTs and other the medical professionals who attended to him. “The chances of me coming back from what I had were not very good. You basically need to be in that situation or in a hospital to be saved. If I’m at home or I’m out jogging, I’m gone.”
The entire episode gave him even more of a wake-up call about his own health; it made him realize that he was lacking in his ability to take care of other people as well: he doesn’t know how to perform CPR. But he’s about to find out. He and his wife have signed up for a training course, part of which includes learning how to use the AED.
Know it before you have to show it
While most people have heard of CPR, and many have even seen it performed in movies, only training will demonstrate how to do it properly. The Canadian Red Cross says that only one in seven people know CPR.
The trick is that the guidelines occasionally change so people need to not be complacent once they do learn what to do in medical emergencies, including heart attacks.
Last year, the Red Cross supported the use of compression-only CPR (as an acceptable alternative to full CPR with rescue breaths) for members of the public who witness an adult suddenly collapse and are unable to perform full CPR.
Full CPR contains cycles of 30 chest compressions and two rescue breaths.
Performing CPR on an infant or child still requires rescue breaths.
“The most important thing for Canadians to know right now is that the CPR they’ve been trained to perform is still right,” stated the news release issued at the time. “Performing full CPR in conjunction with an automated external defibrillator (AED) immediately following cardiac arrest can double a person’s chance of survival.”
City recreation services director Monique St. Louis reassured the public that all city facilities have AEDs and all recreation staff are fully trained in CPR and in AED usage through the Lifesaving Society.
“We work very closely with them,” she said. “We keep current with all the training because of the nature of the business that we’re in. Our staff are very well trained. Safety is a huge part of our environment and we’re very conscious of it.”
The City of St. Albert offers a 16-hour Lifesaving Standard First Aid course. It provides comprehensive training with all aspects of first aid and CPR including the use of an AED for people 13 years of age and older. It’s approved by Alberta Workplace Health and Safety.
The course runs from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday, March 17 and 18. As of yesterday there were still 11 spots available in the session. The cost is $86.95.
Signs of a cardiac arrest
o sudden collapse
o sudden unresponsiveness to touch or sound
o abnormal or no breathing