Ice hockey referee paying it forward after surviving cardiac arrest at rink

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — David Alber was born for the ice. He’s the one who makes the calls.

“Something I have been doing over 20 years,” Alber said.

Off the ice, Alber stays pretty active, running, biking, skiing, and rock climbing.

It was a June summer night and Alber was doing what he does best.

“I was refereeing a hockey game at CC for the Campbell League,” said Alber.

On June 28, something was different. Something was wrong.

Four paramedics responded to Honnen Ice Arena, including Colorado Springs Fire Department paramedic John Ferg. They found Alber in cardiac arrest.

“The bystanders did a lot, really well, with the bystander CPR and having an AED on. I would say more often than not we don’t see that happen,” said Ferg.

Even with the help of his team, including a nurse who just happened to be in the stands at the time, Alber was struggling to stay alive.

“He wasn’t breathing well enough for somebody to sustain living,” said Ferg.

According to Ferg, a person normally breathes 12 to 20 breaths per minute. But that night, Alber was only taking about six breaths a minute.

He was rushed to the hospital.

A neighbor called Alber’s daughter, Anna, to tell her what happened.

“They told me my dad had fell, that I needed to get to the hospital right away,” said Ann Alber-Farro. “I remember that whole night I was really scared if he was going to wake up or not.”

“I was disoriented when I woke up, but I don’t remember anything at all about it. Very surreal experience for me,” said Alber.

Alber had an angioplasty and a stint put in his heart, and after a short hospital stay, he was back on his blades.

“Got back to the ice skating and exercising as quickly as I could,” said Alber.

Not much has changed for Alber, but he does say he has a little more humility, which is why he’s taking a CPR class at Fire Station 2 — so he can pay it forward one day.

“Because I could save a life, other people like Holly, she knew how to save a life and she implemented what she knew, and I hope I never have to be in that situation, but I might be one day,” Alber said.

Alber’s daughter wanted to learn how to help too.

“We thought that that would never happen to him because he’s a healthy guy,” said Alber-Farro.

In the class, they learned how to use an AED, like the one in the ice rink.

“It really does save lives. I am living proof of that,” said Alber.

Colorado College now encourages local business owners to have AEDs readily available.

“You bring it out, you open it up and you turn it on, it walks you through what to do next,” said Colorado College Vice President of Student Life John Lauer. “Timing is everything, so every time you can reduce the amount of time to a response, that’s going to be the key.”

It’s an important lesson that likely saved Alber’s life.

“I think early CPR, good CPR, and early electricity was a big factor in this call,” Ferg said.

First responders said if you are caught in a similar situation, start compressions right away, while someone else is calling 911. Then if available, get an AED.

“I think that it’s important to take the class, because if the people that saved his life and the people that were there, if everything didn’t work out the way that it would, he wouldn’t be standing right here today,” said Alber-Farro.

Luckily, Alber is still standing and got to meet some of the crew who saved his life.

It’s a rare reunion that makes it all worth it for these paramedics.

“It’s nice to see him because we are seeing someone in their worst state, so it’s nice to see somebody in a much better light,” Ferg said. “Seeing his daughter and seeing what she didn’t get to lose that day.”

“They all worked together and saved me,” Alber said. “Apparently not many people walk away from something like this, like I did unscathed. Just real lucky about that.”

According to the American Heart Association, the average survival rate of an out-of-hospital cardiac arrest is only 10 percent.

If you’d like to take a CPR class, go to the American Red Cross website and enter your location to find a class near you.

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