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Rich Peverley helping others after health scare

Former NHL forward, who went into cardiac arrest during game, raises funds for lifesaving devices

by Amalie Benjamin @AmalieBenjamin / Staff Writer

GUELPH, Ontario -- A raw edge bites at Nathalie Peverley's voice, nearly three years later. Her voice thickens, becomes huskier, as the memories and fears and anxieties rise, once again, to the surface. It has all taken time to process, and still the emotion is palpable.

There was the cardiac arrest that eventually ended Rich Peverley's hockey career; the surgeries, the workouts that were ultimately in vain; the retirement, the way that life changed completely and irrevocably.

There was the end of something, but there was the beginning, too. And that is where Nathalie's voice softens, as she blinks back the lurking tears, as she shares her pride.

Two years ago, after conversations with doctors, after reflections on what had happened and where their lives were going, Rich and Nathalie created Pevs Protects, a charity that works to raise funds to purchase automated external defibrillators (AEDs) and to educate and train people of all ages to use those devices.

It works, ultimately, to save lives in the way that Rich Peverley's was saved.

"It's been a healing process for our family," Nathalie said. "Especially for our kids, to look at something that was challenging for us to go through, but also to see what you can do to take a hard situation and make it a good one.

"It could have been way worse. We could have lost Richard. There's a lot of families out there that reached out to us and they unfortunately lost somebody. I just don't want a family to have to go through that."

Their luck -- yes, they use that word -- came at the time of Rich's cardiac arrest, which occurred at American Airlines Center in Dallas during a game March 10, 2014, with his Dallas Stars teammates drawing attention to him on the bench and medical personnel on hand and an AED not far away.

The plan, now, is to pass that luck along, to make more luck for more people. That started in Guelph on Friday with the second annual Pevs Protects Fundraiser and continues in Dallas on Sunday, when the Stars play the Boston Bruins (12:30 p.m. ET; NBC, NHL.TV). The Stars are hosting Pevs Protects Day for the American Heart Association, and before the game there will be CPR demonstrations in Victory Plaza near American Airlines Center.

Then the Peverleys will head back up north to Kitchener, Ontario, on Tuesday for their third event in five days.

These are not easy for Rich, 34, or Nathalie. It is emotionally taxing to revisit and relive some of the worst moments of their lives, to draw attention to themselves again and again, to something that now seems to have happened so long ago.

But then they look around them, at people like Liam Flaherty, the 12-year-old who dropped the puck with Rich before an Ontario Hockey League game between Guelph and Erie on Friday, and who survived his own cardiac arrest last June 27 due to the CPR knowledge of a teacher and the defibrillator brought by EMS, and it all makes sense. It all seems worth it.

"You hear stories of people that had cardiac arrests and in some places they had AEDs and in some places they didn't and even in the places that they did, some people didn't want to use it or didn't know how to use it," said Rich, who works as a player development coordinator for the Stars and has moved back to Guelph. "That helped push us."

According to Heart & Stroke of Canada, with which Pevs Protects is partnered, fewer than 10 percent of people survive cardiac arrests that occur outside of a hospital. That makes Peverley and Flaherty two of the fortunate ones.

So far, Pevs Protects has been able to train 400 students who, they hope, will be able to pass the knowledge to others, including friends and family members. The training sessions are conducted to the Bee Gees' "Stayin' Alive," a way to imprint the technique.

"They're having fun doing it, but they don't realize they're learning the beat to it," Nathalie said. "I don't care if they remember just the Bee Gees song, but if they ever need it, they have something."

For now, Pevs Protects is working on raising money, on placing the devices and on training. But there are bigger dreams, if still not quite formed. Peverley is hoping that more teams - in the NHL, American Hockey League, junior hockey, college, wherever -- will do a "Heart Night," whether it's affiliated with Pevs Protects or not. He hopes that someday defibrillators will be mandatory in schools in Ontario and beyond. Perhaps AED training can be added to school curriculums.

The event Friday in Guelph -- much like the Peverleys' appearance in Dallas on Sunday will be -- was a vision of those grand plans in miniature. Friends and family, including Peverley's mother, Nancy, handed out red-and-black Pevs Protects shirts, collected money for the 50-50 raffle, mimicked carnival barkers as they pushed attendees to buy into "Chuck-a-Puck" - just $3 for one, $5 for two, $10 for five - in a bid to win signed jerseys from NHL players Johnny Boychuk, Patrick Sharp, Jamie Benn and Pekka Rinne and the Guelph team.

Rich was standing nearby, surrounded by the people who surrounded him in the aftermath of his incident, shaking hands and giving out hugs, signing autographs and taking pictures. He seemed to know half of the crowd, and was meeting the rest.

He wanted them to know they can help. All of them. Any of them. They can donate, sure. But they can also, if they find themselves in the right place at the wrong time, save someone. They can save someone like Liam. They can save someone like Rich. They can help make it more than one in 10 who survive, who feel the way that Rich feels about the moment that cost him his career after eight seasons as an NHL forward, but not his life.

"I do feel lucky," Rich Peverley said. "Maybe that was supposed to happen and I'm put in a place to hopefully help other people. I don't know. But maybe."

Photos by Dave Peleschak

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