The odds of a puck hitting a skating hockey player directly in the chest at the precise moment when his heart is exposed between beats -- commotio cordis in medical terms -- may be minuscule, but the freakish event still occasionally occurs. In fact, it happened in terrifying fashion in suburban Boston earlier this winter, when 15-year-old Tyler Symes went into cardiac arrest after being struck directly in the chest with a close-range slapshot.
According to the Boston Globe, Symes was struck while skating for the Milford (Mass.) High/Blackstone-Millville Regional (Mass.) High hockey coop against Nipmuc Regional (Mass.) High on Dec. 20. Few remember the precise circumstances surrounding the injury from which Symes is still recovering, but all recall that it followed a slapshot from as close as 10-12 feet, which struck Symes directly in the chest.
"Tyler sort of melted down to the ice," Milford school trainer Jody Whyte, who was one of the first to reach Symes after his collapse, told the Globe.
Luckily, one of the referees at the game, Jason Galofaro, had recently passed an EMT exam, and skated over to check on Symes. When he saw Whyte and Milford's coach hunched over the stricken player, he skated over and began chest compressions until a defibrillator could be located.
Once the AED was brought to the ice, Whyte shocked the teen twice, resuscitating a pulse which had been gone for as many as six minutes, according to a cardiac nurse who came down from the stands once it became clear that Symes was suffering from a serious episode.
In the course of Symes' rescue, both the cardiac nurse and Milford firefighter Frank Ferrante performed rescue breaths on the teen, who was rapidly transported to Marlborough Hospital and, once he had stabilized days later, to UMass Medical Center in Worcester.
The terrifying incident left many at the game shaken, but could have been much worse. According to Dr. David Kane, the pediatric cardiologist treating Symes, cardio commotis cases like the one on the ice in Milford prove fatal 65 percent of the time, a mark down some 10 percent in recent years because of the sudden surge in accessibility to AEDs and trained EMTs.
Both of those factors helped save the first teen to be struck with the condition in a New England hockey game since 2007, though Symes has only begun on a long recovery process. The 15-year-old is reportedly fine physically, but still suffers from short-term memory loss, which has kept him from returning to school.
"He's forgotten some of the stuff he's learned this year," Tyler's mother, Dawn Symes, told the Globe. "He doesn't remember some of the Christmas gifts he got, but he can remember hockey tournaments he played in when he was 10, 12 years old."
Now he's just hoping to be back to normal in time to resume his other sports, baseball and soccer, in the future.
"He asked me ‘Am I going to be ready for baseball season?'" Tyler's father, Ben Symes, told the Globe. "We don't have an answer."