Commentary

Peverley incident familiar to Fischer

Former Red Wings defenseman recalls his collapse, how it changed his life

Updated: March 11, 2014, 2:33 PM ET
By Pierre LeBrun | ESPN.com

Jiri FischerAP Photo/Paul SancyaJiri Fischer had to retire after he collapsed on the bench more than eight years ago.

Jiri Fischer was at home in suburban Detroit with his 7-year-old son Monday night, catching up on all the NHL action and scores.

"Then the big news hit. I watched the video right away," Fischer told ESPN.com on Tuesday in the aftermath of Rich Peverley's scary collapse and cardiac resuscitation.

Impossible to ignore were the flashbacks to his own near-tragic cardiac episode in 2005 while playing for the Detroit Red Wings.

"The two videos are similar, except I'm getting chest compressions while being unconscious on the bench and they carried Rich into the locker room," said Fischer, before adding about watching Monday's video: "Scary, goose bumps ..."

Fischer, in his seventh year as director of player development for the Red Wings, reached out to Stars GM Jim Nill on Tuesday morning. Nill was an assistant GM with the Red Wings when Fischer had his own scare. The message to Nill was that Fischer was there for Peverley if Peverley wanted to talk at some point, that he was there to offer guidance.

"That's what I offered to Jim this morning," said Fischer. "Now it's up to Rich. I know when something like this happens, I didn't want to talk to anybody at first. I wanted to shut down for a little bit.

"That first day is tough, lots of emotions going through you: 'How does this affect my life? Can I go back to playing?' It's a sheer panic. It's not easy to deal with."

Yet out of Fischer's traumatic experience in 2005 came much good, the NHL improving its protocol to deal with such events.

"I think my incident was a big eye-opener in terms of the limitations in the resuscitation protocol and what should be implemented in all the arenas, from the local rink to the biggest light there is -- the NHL," said Fischer. "My cardiac arrest wasn't the first one, but it was certainly the first live one [on TV] in hockey, and that attracted a lot of attention. So the whole protocol has changed since then. [Wings doctor] Tony Colucci, who saved my life along with the rest of our medical staff, he was really pushing every meeting that they had with NHL doctors, they talked about the accessibility of an ambulance, they talked about how doctors need to be close, they talked about how a defibrillator needs to be part of the standard equipment for every locker room in every rink, they talked about how the whole protocol of resuscitation should go before somebody gets into the hospital. That's not just for the players but for anybody in the stands.

"Unfortunately, I volunteered for that," Fischer said, chuckling, "but a lot of good things came out of it."

That protocol was evident Monday night in Dallas, with Peverley being attended to in quick fashion, including the use of the nearby defibrillator.

"It was very impressive. I watched it again on TV this morning," said Fischer. "I'm impressed how well the staff did, how well everybody responded. They saved his life."

[+] EnlargeJiri Fischer
Elsa/Getty ImagesJiri Fischer's promising career was cut short after his collapse.

That look of shock and dismay on everyone's face in Dallas, from players to fans, Fischer has seen that look before too. To this day, he still has Red Wings fans walk right up to him to talk about it.

"The impact on everybody in the arena, I'm not kidding, in the past eight and a half years, there must have been 1,000 people -- and that's no exaggeration -- that came up to me to say, 'I watched the game. You made me think about life,' or 'I was at the game, and I'll never forget it,'" said Fischer.

There's also the impact on the people close to you.

"It's a whole different ballgame when it comes to how it affects the people in your life," said Fischer, who also has a 12-year-old son. "My fiancée, who then became my wife, she's my ex-wife now, she never got over my cardiac arrest. I believe I did. But when people love us, meaning survivors, it's different sometimes.

"My dad woke up in the middle of the night in the Czech Republic to watch my game on the Internet. He found out that I died and was brought back to life. He was my biggest fan, watched every game."

Fischer said the Red Wings flew his parents to Detroit ("The organization was unbelievable") and that he'll never forget the look on his parents' face.

"When I saw my parents look at me for the first time after my cardiac arrest, it was a different look," he said. "They had never looked at me like that before. It was a look of complete panic, complete hopelessness, but also very thankful that I survived."

There is raw emotion in Fisher's voice, even today. Peverley's scary incident Monday night clearly has rekindled some of that.

"I really hope that Rich is going to be OK and he's going to be OK to resume life without any medical consequences," said Fischer. "Hopefully, Rich will be OK and will be able to carry on with his life."

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