March 11, 2014 4:40 pm

Rich Peverley’s collapse: Docs on heart arrhythmia and athlete health

WATCH ABOVE: An update on Rich Peverley’s condition following his collapse on the bench during Monday’s game

TORONTO – While sitting on the bench early in the game, Dallas Stars forward Rich Peverley suddenly collapsed.

Once he fell over, his teammates pounded their sticks on the boards, calling for emergency help. Ultimately, they jumped off the bench and onto the ice, interrupting the game.

Peverley, a 31-year-old Guelph, Ont., hockey star, was rushed over to medical help. Just six minutes into the first period, the game was called off.

WATCH: Head Coach Lindy Ruff updates Rich Peverley’s condition, while Peverley’s teammates are still shaken by the scary scene

Story continues below

READ MORE: Dallas Stars centre Rich Peverley undergoing testing following collapse

“When he dropped, it was a red alert,” Stars coach Lindy Ruff told reporters.

“Don’t worry about the game. It was about getting the doctors. The players don’t want to play and I don’t want to coach the team right now,” he said.

A history of heart problems

But Ruff and the team know of Peverley’s pre-existing heart condition: only six months ago, he underwent a procedure to correct an irregular heartbeat. Last week, the forward missed a game because of a recurrence of the problem.

Peverley even missed preseason games and the season opener because of his operation. He only made his return back to the ice on Oct. 5. Since his treatment, he’s been on medication.

Read more Dallas Stars updates here.

Heart arrhythmia

Dr. Greg Wells, a University of Toronto kinesiologist and Sick Kids Hospital scientist, says that there’s been confusion about what has happened to Peverley.

“This is someone in the prime of their life, super healthy, they’re fit, they’re training so how could somebody like that possibly have a heart problem?” he told Global News.

What’s at play is arrhythmia – and a small percentage of people have this genetic problem tied to about five or six different diseases.

Heart arrhythmia problems occur when the electrical impulses in your heart that coordinate your heartbeats don’t work properly, sometimes causing your heart to beat too fast, too slow or irregularly.

“There are four different chambers in the heart, and they have to contract in a specific order, and when the electrical current doesn’t work properly, or doesn’t transmit properly around the heart, the heart doesn’t beat in the right order or may not beat at all,” Wells explained.

In short, Wells says Peverley’s heart was malfunctioning.

Doctors who treated Peverley said that they’re monitoring him closely for a “different type of arrhythmia.”

“He does have a pre-existing condition, and the condition – a normal quivering of the heart that does not allow him to send blood to places where he needs to, in his brain and heart,” Dr. Gil Salazar, of the University of Texas, told the Associated Press.

Salazar said Peverley was treated with oxygen, an IV drip, chest compressions and a defibrillator to bring rhythm back to his heart.

A similar incident happened to Detroit Red Wings defenseman Jiri Fischer. In 2005, he collapsed on the bench after time on the ice during a game against Nashville. In the end, emergency doctors saved Fischer, who’s heart stopped.

Now, arenas are equipped with defibrillators near all of the benches.

Dr. William Robertson, the chief of sports medicine at University of Texas, said that with Peverley’s case, the crew on hand included internal medicine doctors, orthopedic surgeons, trauma surgeons, trauma doctors and even airway specialists.

“We train for episodes like this with the hopes that they never arise, but our ability to act today quickly for Rich is a testament to the training staff and the team approach to how we prepare for these events,” he told local reporters in Texas.

Wells says that about one in 10,000 people are at risk of a string of different heart arrhythmias.

“So it’s not totally uncommon; the interesting thing about it is it is so shocking that these young, otherwise perfectly healthy people collapse and have heart-related problems and in many cases they die so it does have a high media exposure because of the shocking nature of the events,” Wells said. (Wells and his colleagues at Sick Kids compiled this position statement on sudden cardiac death in athletes here.)

What’s next for Peverley?

Peverley already sat out last week’s game and couldn’t fly because he was feeling off. Right now, he’s undergoing testing at a Dallas hospital.

“Rich has been communicating with his teammates and friends. He is extremely grateful for all of the prayers and support that he’s received from fans and friends alike,” the Stars’ General Manager Jim Nill said in an issued statement.

Wells said that irregular heartbeat can happen at any time, but putting stress on the body can also trigger an event. In some cases, people diagnosed with the disease are restricted from certain types of exercise. What worries him is that Peverley already underwent treatment to stop this from happening.

“The major [factor] is he has this pre-existing condition that predisposes him to having another one of these events. He is going to have to decide with medical staff if he can participate in hockey safely and if it’s worth risking his life,” Wells said.

With files from the Associated Press

carmen.chai@globalnews.ca

© Shaw Media, 2014

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