By Keith Lacey
Harold Cox counts the days – literally – since he was given a second chance at life.
Not only was last Friday his 77th birthday, but it marked day 1,091 when his hockey buddies from the Friday morning pickup hockey in Oliver saved his life.
On the morning of Jan. 17, 2014, Cox, then age 74, suffered a massive heart attack near the end of a two-hour game at the Oliver Arena.
Five of his longtime buddies and fellow hockey players immediately went to work knowing this was a life-and-death situation and saved his life by performing cardiopulmonary resuscitation and then shocking his heart using an Automated External Defibrillator (AED).
It was estimated that Cox’s heart had stopped for close to five minutes before being brought back to life.
Cox has made a remarkable recovery since that frightening incident.
Not only was he back on skates in a matter of months, but he and his wife Audrie have continued to travel the world, he continues to work out regularly at the gym and still plays a ton of golf.
Two weeks after the incident, Cox underwent successful triple bypass surgery at Kelowna General Hospital.
Three years later, Cox said he weighs less than he did three years ago and feels in better physical condition than he has in many years, which is saying a lot because he’s adhered to a strict fitness regiment most of his adult life.
To celebrate his birthday and thank all of his hockey buddies, Cox bought them beer and pizza Friday morning after his regular Friday morning skate.
Four of the five hockey players who worked together to save Cox’s life were at Friday’s special birthday celebration. They included Jeff Crowley, Doug Hume, Marty Whiteman and Bryan Coles. Steve Arstad no longer lives in Oliver.
“I just wanted to thank these four guys and Steve … who helped save my life,” said Cox.
Ironically, the day he suffered his massive heart attack the AED inside the Oliver Arena was locked inside the Zamboni room and it was only through good luck that the arena attendant was nearby to allow relatively quick access to the machine, said Cox.
Cox told the roomful of his 20 hockey buddies that he truly treasures every single day since he was shocked back to life.
He literally counts every day since this happened and Friday marked 1,091 days since he was given a second chance at life, said Cox.
Being able to return to playing hockey and skating on the same ice with the men who saved his life and all the others from the Friday morning crew is something he treasures, said Cox.
He and his wife have continued their passion of travelling the world and left this past weekend for Dubai and will be joining a large contingent from the Rotary Club of Osoyoos for an extended tour of South Africa later this week, he said.
He and his wife have travelled to Portugal, Spain and Mexico in the past three years and have now visited more than 50 countries during their marriage, he said.
His passion for the game of hockey is stronger than ever and it’s no coincidence the life-changing incident happened playing the game he and his buddies love.
“Hockey is the reason I’m here today,” he said.
Crowley said it’s very ironic that he and several friends had taken a course in Osoyoos on how to properly use an AED only days before Cox suffered his massive heart attack.
On the day in question, that training came in very handy and the AED did exactly what it was designed to do as it was obvious Cox’s heart had stopped, said Crowley.
The majority of players who play every Friday morning in Oliver have been good friends for many years, but this incident brought them even closer together, said Crowley.
“Everybody that was here that day was part of it (saving Cox’s life),” said Crowley. “We were a close group before, but this has really brought us even closer together.”
Crowley agreed it was fate that Cox’s heart attack happened on the ice where his friends were, rather than half an hour later driving home.
“Hockey saved Harold’s life,” he said.
Whiteman said he can remember that day like it happened yesterday.
“We all knew it was serious and we had to do something,” he said. “When he hit the ice that hard, we all knew it was a heart attack. His colour had changed and he was just lying there dead on the ice.
“Fortunately, we were able to get that AED on him and shock him back to life. When that first jolt hit him, his body literally jumped a foot in the air … but we had him back.”
This incident has particular emotional resonance with him because he lost his father to a similar massive heart attack at the tender age of 53 many years ago, said Whiteman.
“He had this massive heart attack and just died alone on the floor, while on vacation in Calgary,” he said. “Unfortunately, he didn’t get a second chance. That’s why it means a lot to everybody that was there that day that not only was Harold saved, but he’s fully recovered and really enjoying life.
“It was an experience you don’t ever forget. It’s hard to believe it has been three years already.”
Cox said buying beer and pizza for the boys is the least he could do.
“I just wanted to let the boys know how appreciative I am for what they did for me,”
he said. “I have been able to enjoy 1,091 more days and hopefully many more because of what happened that day.”
The story of how his hockey buddies saved Cox’s life went national and has resulted in AEDs being installed in virtually every hockey arena in Canada.
There was also a brief feature about how his life was saved during an intermission segment on Hockey Night in Canada a couple of years ago.
Cox and his wife have also donated funding to purchase several AEDs at public buildings in Osoyoos over the past couple of years.