First aid response saved PG hockey player Gord Fairbairn

Immediate first aid prevented death of Gord Fairbairn after he suffered massive heart attack after game at Kin Centre

When retired Canfor Pulp engineer Gord Fairbairn suffered a massive heart attack last April, quick intervention and his active lifestyle helped him beat the odds and survive that near-fatal incident.

Fairbairn had just finished playing hockey with the Rusty Nuts Oldtimers and was walking to his vehicle parked as the north entrance of the Kin Centre when he collapsed. His was the only vehicle parked in that lot and fortunately for Fairbairn a woman driving by in her van saw him fall face first onto the sidewalk and immediately called 9-1-1.

After completing a flood on the ice, Kin Centre rink assistant foreman Jaimie Shpak was walking through the building near the entrance when she saw the woman attending to Fairbairn, whose face was on the road with the rest of his body on the sidewalk. Shpak called on her radio to her co-worker, Onkar Parmar, who rushed to the scene from the other side of the building.

They had just moved Fairbairn flat on his back laying on Shpak’s jacket when city snowplough driver Jason Force drove up. Force, a former lifeguard, followed the instructions of the 9-1-1 operator and put his first aid skills to use, applying chest compressions in between breaths into Fairbairn’s mouth, while Rusty Nuts player Mark Barlow ran to grab the portable defibrillator from the Kin 1 timekeeper’s bench.

“Looking at him that day, it wasn’t looking very good, we wondered if he was going to make it because he wasn’t responding,” said Parmar. “His skin was turning pale and we couldn’t find any pulse.”

“It was scary, he was in bad shape,” said Force. “I’ll never forget seeing him on the ground with that look on his face when we were helping him.”

Force learned later from one of the firefighters at the scene that he did not have his hand ideally positioned to massage Fairbairn’s heart, but his quick actions kept him alive.

“I had CPR and lifeguard training but this was the first time I had to use it,” said Force. “It seemed like a long time I was doing chest compressions but it was only three or four minutes before the firefighters and ambulance got there.

“What little I did, I realized I wasn’t doing it right. But you have to try to do what you can when someone’s life is on the line.”

Firefighters soon arrived and took over CPR treatment. Still detecting no pulse, they got out a defibrillator and had to use it four or five times to shock Fairbairn’s chest before his heart started beating again. He was rushed to the hospital and spent the night at UHNBC before he was flown to Vancouver the following morning.

Fairbairn suffered what’s known as a widow-maker heart attack, caused when his left anterior descending artery became totally blocked. On average, just 12 per cent of cardiac arrest victims survive if the attack happens away from a hospital.

Doctors at St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver put a catheter in through a blood vessel in his groin to insert a stent to eliminate the blockage and keep the walls of the artery permanently open. He has no memory of the incident until he woke up after arriving at the Vancouver hospital.

“I couldn’t believe it because I felt good before and felt good when I woke up, so I was like, ‘no, you guys are joking with me,’ I had no inkling ahead of time,” said Fairbairn. “I felt fine and I had no pain at all and no heart issues and no breathing issues. I was kind of lucky that way.”

Fairbairn turned 66 in October and his participation in sports and excellent conditioning have obviously helped him bounce back to health. Hospitalized for only a week, he made a quick recovery and a couple months later was back at his favourite summertime competitive activity – racing bikes with the Supertrak BMX Club. When hockey season started again in October, the fleet-footed Fairbairn was back on defence breaking up opponents’ scoring opportunities and leading rushes up the ice as if nothing had happened to him.

Other than three broken teeth and a broken thumbnail caused by the fall, the one lingering effect of his heart attack is it takes Fairbairn longer to recover after heavy exertion. He’s on blood-thinners, blood pressure medication and another prescription drug he takes prevents his heart from getting overworked.

“Sometimes I get a little dizzy on the ice if I get going too hard and I think that’s from my low blood pressure,” he said. “That happened in BMX too. Typically, I was the first to recover and now I’m the last guy to recover, but I’m still going. It’s still enjoyable.

“Apparently I don’t have any brain damage but me wife might argue that.”

Shpak, Parmar and Force were told back in April by Fairbairn’s daughter that he had survived his haert attack and they were relieved to learn he’s back doing what he does best with the Rusty Nuts. Until this week, Fairbairn had no idea who they were and what exactly they had done to keep him alive. All he knew was there a female rink attendant was involved.

“It would have been game over if someone wouldn’t have found me,” said Fairbairn. “I’d like to give her a big hug.”

He got his wish Friday.

Before their morning intrasquad game at Kin 3, the players gathered at centre ice for a demonstration of how to operate the automated external defibrillator stored at the timekeeper’s booth. Near the end of the demonstration, Shpak and Parmar surprised Fairbairn when they walked out onto the ice to greet him, and for their lifesaving efforts they were each presented with a Rusty Nuts jersey.

“It made my day seeing him, and to talk to him and hear his side of the story was awesome” said Shpak. “After he got taken away in the ambulance, it was a week later and he was in the hospital and that was the last I knew about him. So to hear he went BMX racing in June was incredible because he was in rough shape the last time I saw him.”

Force had a work commitment and could not attend Friday’s game but will also receive a jersey when he comes by the rink on Wednesday to meet with Fairbairn.