03/05/2014 10:44 EST | Updated 05/05/2014 05:59 EDT

Quick thinking saves 79-year-old Saskatoon hockey player

A heart attack at a noon-hour hockey game could have spelled the end for a 79-year-old man.

The man plays in a league for men aged 60 and older. They play at the Schroh Arena run four times a week.

From the opposing bench, Harvey Birns says he saw the man drop to the the ice.

"I thought he had tripped," said Birns. "We noticed right away he wasn't moving. So the whistle went, we jumped over the boards, went over there and we realized he was in distress." 

Cardiac arrest

Birns is a former first responder, and has maintained his CPR certification. He said a teammate ran to the lobby to grab the rink's Automated External Defibrillator (AED) while he attempted to revive the man.

"You know it's a friend of yours. He's alive. You're playing hockey with him, all of a sudden he's laying there. So it's emotional. But it's a competition, you want to help this guy and do what you can." 

Using the defibrillator, Birns' teammate Roy Hewko shocked the man three times.

Paramedics said by the time they arrived, the man was conscious. He remained stable as they transported him to Royal University Hospital.

"Time is everything in cardiac arrest," said MD Ambulance's Troy Davies. "Every minute that someone's without defibrillation or CPR, they lose about a 10 per cent chance of survival."

The rink has kept an AED on the premises for the past nine years. It's now applying for a federal grant, to buy a newer model.

Life-saving devices

Officials with Saskatoon's Heart Safe Program say last year, Ottawa promised to install the portable devices in every Canadian hockey rink. They say to date, the defibrillators have saved the lives of 13 people in Saskatoon.

One of those was an 83-year-old woman, attending a comedy show Monday evening at TCU Place. After the woman went into cardiac arrest, staff at the auditorium pulled out their AED for the first time to revive her.

"We were one of the first facilities to have an AED on site," said Gerard Cullen, a manager at TCU Place. "We definitely recommend it."

"So many people are going through the building. It just makes sense," he added.

Paramedics said the woman, and the 79-year-old man are both recovering at Royal University Hospital..