September 23, 2019

BY CHRIS HUSSEY

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It was a Friday night when Mike Cicchine’s heart stopped.

The 64-year-old was playing a recreational hockey game with his friends in New Hamburg at the community centre on April 17 last year. It seemed like just another game, until he went into cardiac arrest.

He awoke the following Sunday and learned what had transpired in the moments after the incident. One of the players from the opposing team, Wes Cressman, ran over to try and help.
“He ripped my equipment off,” said Cicchine. “He knew exactly what was going on.”

Luckily, there was an automated external defibrillator (AED) in the building, and Cressman was able to use that to get Cicchine’s heart beating again until an ambulance arrived. He would later learn that Cressman had only completed his CPR training a week before the incident.

Almost a year after the near-death experience, Cicchine was standing in a sweaty dressing room again, but this time with a different group of men. He was not the one putting on hockey equipment or taping his stick. Instead, he was using his story to show the players why the upcoming game was so significant.

After all, what they were set to play for went far beyond hockey. Cicchine was actually speaking at the seventh annual Kitchener Hockey for Heart, an event organized in support of the Heart and Stroke Foundation.

The event took place on Jan. 23 and 24 at the Kitchener Memorial Auditorium, or The Aud as it is known, and consisted of 10 teams playing at various times over the course of the two days. These teams were assembled independently and each paid a team registration fee of $850. Additionally, individuals were given the chance to fundraise for the foundation on their own. As an incentive, the top 10 fundraisers were able to play together as a team during the last game of the event.

Pat Boucher, a volunteer who has served as chair of the Kitchener Hockey for Heart for all seven years, said they raised at least $16,000 for the foundation this year, much of which will be invested in getting AEDs installed in local buildings.

“After seven years, it pretty much runs itself,” said Boucher. “It’s a great tournament and it’s a lot of fun.”

That’s where Cicchine came in. The event has typically had guest speakers in the past, and he knew better than many people how important AEDs are.

“If it wasn’t for the AED in the rink (that day), I wouldn’t be here,” he said.

The event hit home for him in other ways too. Although he works full time as a parts manager with Jaguar Waterloo, his real passion is hockey. He has been playing since he was five and loves the game.

“It’s been my life,” he said.

After his cardiac arrest, he had to get rehabilitation for six months. He has improved so much that he can now go recreational skating. However, his doctors recommend he never play hockey again. While undoubtedly disappointing, Cicchine takes it in stride.

“At my age, you know what, it’s not a big deal,” he said.

Looking ahead, Cicchine hopes to do a lot more of this sort of work. He is actually set to do a video with Cressman explaining how to properly give CPR to someone, and he said he would be very interested in speaking at events similar to Hockey for Heart in the future.

He was quick to point out how thankful he was to even be at this event in the first place. Even though the AED was able to get his heart beating again, he still was in bad shape when he arrived in the hospital that day. In fact, Daralee, his wife, was told only eight per cent of patients who arrive in the shape he was in walk out.

He defied the odds, and so now his friends call him “Miracle Mike,” and it’s a nickname he has come to embrace.

“That’s what it was,” he said. “It was a miracle.”

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