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Three Calgary Buffalo Hockey Association trainers were in the right place at the right time, and their quick-thinking – and a powerful community response – saved a player’s life

Shannon Coulter
October 28, 2021

Sometimes, decisions are made in life that are meant to be. Just like how the little voice in trainer Haley Patyna’s head told her not to forget her medical bag as she went to Cardel Rec South in Calgary on Oct. 7.

Or how trainers Shyin Dixon and Blair Olsen weren’t originally supposed to be at the rink that night, but they joined Patyna to assist her U21 team with baseline concussion testing.

“Looking back, it was kind of wild because it was supposed to be just me,” says Patyna, 24. “But luckily, it was all three of us.”

Ultimately those two decisions are a part of the reason why a life was saved that evening.

As the clock ticked past 10 p.m., only Patyna’s U21 team and a 55-plus recreational league remained at the rink. With their testing complete, the Calgary Buffalo Hockey Association trainers were socializing and catching up in the hallway.

“These two guys came out of the rink where , and they said that they needed an AED ,” says Olsen, 23. “They said they had a guy on the ice that was having a heart attack.”

The three trainers sprung into action. Olsen went to grab the AED located at the arena while Patyna grabbed her medical bag. Patyna and Dixon were first on the ice to assist the player.

“He was very obviously in medical distress, really struggling to breathe,” says Dixon, 24.

With the AED in hand, Olsen joined her fellow trainers on the ice, and they began to set up the defibrillator on the player. Dixon began CPR when they noticed the man had stopped breathing and they couldn’t find a pulse.

The trainers’ interventions with the AED worked, and within a few minutes the man was fully conscious and speaking again.

“It wasn’t long at all, granted when we were out there it felt like eternity,” Patyna says. “It was maybe five minutes before he was fully aware, he knew where he was and he knew what had happened.”

As a part of their preparedness for every game, trainers have an action plan to assign who will do what role in an emergency. But the three trainers were not the only ones who played a key role in this situation. The recreational league team on the ice was actively helping in any way it could, from taking off the player’s equipment, calling 911 and providing towels and blankets.

“Even before the paramedics showed up, the team was donating all of their jerseys to help keep him warm on the ice,” Dixon says. “The team was a fantastic help during that, they were there for anything that we needed.”

“I hope those guys give themselves credit for it, too,” Olsen says. “They were quick to give us credit for it, but their effort was just as important.”

As the paramedics arrived and loaded the player onto the stretcher, he was chatting and joking with his teammates.

“It was definitely a relief to see him going off to the hospital in high spirits and in a good mood,” Patyna says.

Since the night of the emergency, the community reaction Dixon, Patyna and Olsen have experienced for saving a man’s life has been surreal.

“I did not expect it to blow up as much as it did,” Olsen says. “When we left the rink, we just were happy that it had a happy outcome.”

“To all of us, we just did what we were trained to do,” Patyna adds. “We don’t do it to expect a reward out of it. We do it because we love it.”

The incident has also re-confirmed the importance of having AEDs located in public areas.

“They’re very straightforward to use. They come with very detailed instructions,” Dixon says. “Even if it saves one life, it’s 100 per cent worth it every single time.”

“My dad was talking about getting one installed in their office after the whole situation,” Olsen adds.

This past weekend, the player returned to the rink to look for the trainers who saved his life. Olsen and Patyna were there, and they got to speak with him and his family in person to see how he was doing since the emergency.

“That was really nice,” Olsen says. “It was good to see him in as good of a condition as he’s in now.”

Looking back, two things stand out to the trainers: how important it is to always be prepared and how powerful a community response can be in emergencies.

“That was really a team effort that night from everyone,” Olsen says. “If I were to ever go through this again, I would just remember that the people around me are my team, use them.”

“I was amazed at the sense of community that night,” Dixon adds. “It’s insane how people just come together to help one person.”