By Mitch Calvert, Sports Reporter
The recent passing of 19-year-old Russian NHL prospect Alexei Cherepanov is a horrible tragedy, but what’s worse is not knowing if his death was avoidable or not.
So many questions remain unanswered.
The leaked YouTube video shows his fellow Avangaard Omsk teammates of the Kontinental Hockey League hoisting Cherepanov’s body onto their arms and shoulders and carrying him off the bench with his legs in the air.
It’s especially concerning because the Jiri Fischer incident from 2005 in the NHL proved the only two things that can be done on the scene when someone’s heart stops is cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and/or the use of a defibrillator (a device used to shock the heart back into normal rhythm).
Fischer collapsed on the bench as a member of the Detroit Red Wings, but survived because of the quick action taken by the experienced medical people on scene and the resources they had available to them.
It’s also why the NHL requires medical personnel be within 50 feet of the players’ bench during games, and that defibrillators be on site in all arenas.
Did the KHL—a league that has pumped millions of dollars into contracts and bonuses to attract big-name players—not even have experienced medical personnel or a defibrillator on site? Reports suggest a defibrillator wasn’t available, or at least wasn’t used.
If a qualified medical professional was there, surely he or she wouldn’t have had the players take matters into their own hands, either.
To make matters worse, reports have said an ambulance wasn’t readily available, though the man who saved Fischer’s life told The Canadian Press that likely wouldn’t have made a difference.
“Ambulances should always be there and in the NHL, we have rules that there has to be two at every game, one for the players and one for the spectators,” Dr. Anthony Colucci said.
“But the [life-saving] treatment on the player has to happen immediately. There’s no time to move him,” he stressed.
Dr. Colucci also noted that four minutes is the amount of time the brain can go without blood flow from the heart, and said doing both CPR and defibrillation before that time increases the player’s chances of survival ten-fold than doing just one or the other.
The most important thing that can come out of such a sad story is the hope that we can learn from the KHL’s mistakes so they don’t happen elsewhere.
The condition which caused Cherepanov’s death is still unclear, but it’s highly suspected the culprit was Hypertrophic CardioMyopathy—the same condition that caused the sudden death of Windsor Spitfires’ captain Mickey Renaud back in February, which essentially is described as the thickening of the heart wall.
If a similar condition struck a member of the Fort Frances Jr. Sabres or a local minor hockey player, would the response or result be any better than what happened in that game just outside Moscow? There isn’t a defibrillator at the Memorial Sports Centre yet.
True, the local District Social Services Administration Board is in the process of installing one there (and elsewhere) but what’s taking so long? The device itself walks the operator through the necessary steps needed to use it, and it wouldn’t require much of a training session to have all on-site lifeguards (who attend to incidents on the ice) prepared and capable of using one.
In Winnipeg last winter, Chris Kacsmar, a competitive soccer player, collapsed when his heart stopped during a game at the indoor Highlander Sportsplex. An arena worker came to his aid with a portable defibrillator and saved his life.
There aren’t ambulances on stand-by during Sabres’ games, likely due to costs associated with having one there, but what is the cost to the families of a teenager whose death could have been avoided? An ambulance with a defibrillator that could be driven into the arena might be the difference between a full recovery or a funeral.
But the better option is purchasing one and having it right there by the bench. Shouldn’t these necessary life-saving defibrillators be required in every rink where kids (and adults) are playing a high-impact sport like hockey?
It’s a small price to pay to save lives, don’t you think?