Walking still causes Ajoy Puni some pain, with just a few steps leaving him out of breath.
“Sometimes I feel like I exert a little bit of effort and my pulse goes up significantly,” the 50-year-old said from his home in Ville St-Laurent.
It’s incredible, though, that he’s walking at all. Just two weeks ago, Puni suffered a massive heart attack playing hockey.
Thanks to four quick-thinking friends and a defibrillator on hand, his life didn’t slip away.
“There is no way I could thank them enough for what they have done, for everything they have given me. It’s been tremendous,” Puni said, wiping back tears.
It happened during Puni’s regular Friday night game in Westmount at the end of January.
Just minutes before the end of the game, Puni suddenly collapsed.
“I skated out to see what the problem was and I saw he was unresponsive,” said Bruce Stacey, a Westmount Sports and Recreation Centre employee.
Stacey has played hockey with Puni for 28 years. He said that luckily, the team had two doctors on it. They quickly sprung into action.
Puni had no pulse. Doctors said he had experienced sudden cardiac death — essentially, that he was dead.
“There is a shock value to it, obviously, but to look over and see that that it’s one of your friends, it’s hard,” said Stacey, breaking into tears.
With Dr. Ed Harvey directing the team of men surrounding Puni, they cut open his clothes and started administering CPR. It was difficult because Puni had suffered a seizure and his fists and jaw were clenched.
Arena staff grabbed their defibrillator and the emergency team administered it.
“The red light came on saying there was no heart rate. Just like in the movies, we pressed the button, we gave him a shock and the heart rate came back,” said Stacey.
With his pulse back, paramedics arrived and rushed Puni to hospital.
Doctors discovered five blocked arteries. Puni underwent quintuple bypass surgery, taking veins from his leg.
He doesn’t remember any of the trauma. He only woke up five days after his heart stopped.
Puni doesn’t know how he can ever thank the men who helped him.
“Guys that I have known for such a long time, sit beside them in the dressing room or on the bench, to be able to react in a situation like that, it really means a lot.”
The city of Westmount has had defibrillators in all municipal buildings for several years now. It’s the first time, though, staff have ever used a defibrillator in the Westmount Sports and Recreation Centre.
But staff are trained regularly, updating their CPR skills once a year. The defibrillators are checked weekly for any issues and replaced every year.
Westmount Sports and Recreation director Dave Lapointe wants the four men who saved Puni’s life — Harvey, Stacey, Dr. Mike Baranyai and Bobby Forbes — formally recognized by the City of Westmount.
He also hopes the incident helps raise awareness about CPR and defibrillators.
“I think there will be people thinking twice now, thinking, ‘Maybe I should get trained.’ I think they will go and get trained now,” Lapointe said.
For everyone involved, what happened was a life-changing moment.
Stacey, though, doesn’t think he’s a hero.
“I don’t look at it like that. You do what you have to do, if it’s a friend or stranger, you do what you have to do,” Stacey said.
Puni knows how lucky he is.
“It does give you a certain respect for life and the way you treat things and what you want to do,” he said.
Puni hopes to play hockey again one day with the men who saved him. And his fellow players can’t wait for the day he returns.