January 20, 2020

By RYAN HORNE

Paul Schnarr will never forget what happened on Oct. 2, 2007 because it was the day he almost died.
There was three minutes left in the inaugural game of the KW Old-timers season. Schnarr, a lifetime hockey fanatic, was excited about the upcoming season and playing with his buddies. He passed the puck, took a few strides and then he fell, stricken by a heart attack.
“I was lucky that my teammates realized that I was having a heart attack right away and they started CPR,” Schnarr said.
A rink attendant grabbed an automated external defibrillator and shocked Schnarr’s heart back into rhythm, but he didn’t wake up. He was sent to the hospital and doctors had to put him into a coma by packing his body with ice.
“They talked to my family and said not to get too excited about my recovery,” he said. “I had about a five per cent chance of making it.”
But, Schnarr did make it and was a big part of the third annual Hockey for Heart tournament which took place at the Kitchener Memorial Auditorium Jan. 28 and 29. It was a weekend filled with shinny hockey, a few past greats from the pros and awareness of the importance of heart health.
The tournament raised more than $55,000 for the Heart and Stroke Foundation, surpassing their goal of $54,000. It also offered average hockey-loving Joes the chance to get a team together and raise money for heart and stroke research.
This year 22 teams took part in the festivities and surpassed last year’s fundraising efforts of $50,000. The top 15 fundraisers got the chance to play against some impressive NHL alumni in the Pro Stars game on the Saturday night.
“It’s a great opportunity for the participants because the more they fundraise, the better chance they have to play with the pros,” said Megan Lacoursiere, a Heart and Stroke Foundation employee. “So it’s great for them and it’s great for us.”
Marcel Dionne was the headlining player at the Pro Stars game this year. The Hall of Famer, who played in Detroit, New York and Los Angeles, was ecstatic to be a part of the event.
“Now these tournaments are everywhere across the country,” said Dionne. “It’s really a great way to do it (spread awareness and raise money) by playing hockey and get your heart going.”
The 18-year NHL veteran has never been affected by heart issues, but says it could happen to anyone at any time.
“I failed my physical that’s why I got to lose 15 pounds,” joked Dionne. “But seriously, you’re surrounded by it and you never know, you just never know.”
Tournament founder, Roger Weir, started the fundraiser after his father died while suffering a massive heart attack during a pick-up hockey game at the age of 46. The tournament started in 1995 in the small region of Durham. But, it wasn’t until 1999 when a group of local NHL alumni, led by Pete Conacher, came on board and really started to get the ball rolling.
“As we grew this program and had more cities start up we just tried to get different alumni from all across Ontario involved,” said Weir.
Over the past 17 years the tournament has expanded to 10 cities in 2012 and they have raised nearly $2 million for heart and stroke research. Heart disease and stroke are two of the three leading causes of death in Canada and 1.6 million Canadians have had heart disease or are living with the effects of stroke.
One of the main improvements that the tournament and Schnarr have helped create is the addition of defibrillators at arenas and others places in the community. The defibrillator that saved Schnarr’s life was installed just a month before his attack and he was the first person in Waterloo Region to be saved by this medical breakthrough. Four years ago, at the time of his heart attack, there were 42 defibrillators in the region, now there are 124.
“Defibrillators are so important,” said Schnarr. “I believe if that defibrillator wasn’t at Rim Park, that I wouldn’t be here today.”