Dallas Stars hockey center Rich Peverley collapsed from an irregular heartbeat while on the bench during an NHL game on Monday. Resuscitive measures, including chest compressions and electrical defibrillation, restored the 31-year-old player’s heartbeat and brought him back to life.
Mr. Peverley collapsed as soon as he came off the ice during the first period. Team medical staff carried him off the bench for further cardiac treatment. With a history of irregular heartbeats, Mr. Peverley missed the entire preseason as well as the first game of the season in order to get treatment for his condition. He has been on medication and has had medication adjustments. However, his irregular heartbeat caused him to miss a plane flight only a week ago.
Last September, Mr. Peverley underwent a procedure to treat his electrical heart irregularity. While the specific nature of his electrical disturbance has not been made public, arrhythmias can occur from the heart’s top and bottom chambers. These arrhythmias can require electrical cardioversion (a shock delivered to the heart) to restore regular heart rhythm.
Since Mr. Peverley fainted, it is more likely that he had a ventricular arrhythmia from the bottom chamber of the heart. The bottom chamber functions as a pumping station for the body and his loss of consciousness suggests Mr. Peverley was not receiving adequate blood flow to his brain.
It is unclear whether Mr. Peverley has a cardiac muscle abnormality (a structural heart disease such as hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, where the heart muscle is too thick and impedes blood flow out of the heart) or an electrical arrhythmia due to cardiac muscle cells that behave abnormally. These malfunctioning heart muscle cells can trigger an arrhythmia that results in a rapid heartbeat with a potentially chaotic contraction that does not properly distribute blood throughout the body.
Patients with structural heart disease or prior arrhythmias (in the absence of heart disease) need to practice extreme care when performing professional sports. This high level of exertion can impede blood flow from the heart to the body and trigger arrhythmias–leading to sudden cardiac death.