LETHBRIDGE -- Sunday, December 15th was just another Sunday night playing hockey with buddies at the ATB Centre for long-time Lethbridge resident Tony Deys, until it wasn’t.

That’s because Deys suffered a heart attack in a dressing room after playing hockey with his rec team for about 20 minutes.

Deys got emotional as he recounted his experience to assembled media Friday morning. He explained that his mind went blank during this time, but that friends told him that they knew something was wrong immediately.

One of them asked if they should call 9-1-1 as they went into the dressing room, but Deys said no. His friend jumped in the shower but kept talking to Deys who was in the stall next to him. That was until Deys stopped responding, and his friend came out to see him sprawled on the floor. He called 9-1-1 and administered CPR, and within minutes the EMS Integrated Response service arrived at the ATB Centre.

Deys credits the City of Lethbridge’s integrated response model of paramedics and firefighters as one of the main reasons that he’s still alive today.

“I think it was probably about two minutes until the paramedics arrived, and then they were in there for about 20 minutes before they brought me to the hospital and the emergency room,” Deys continued. “I was lucky, not only did my friends know what was going on but STARS (air ambulance) was diverted to the hospital, so STARS were actually waiting for me, instead of me having to wait for STARS.”

STARS Air Ambulance (file)

The integrated service model has been provided by The City of Lethbridge since 1912. It involves dispatching an ambulance and firetruck to a scene when a serious call is received to increase the number of paramedics and firefighters to help at the scene.

Braden Burton, one of the paramedic/firefighters who helped save Deys’ life, says when their team got to the scene they found Deys on the floor unresponsive without a pulse.

After administering CPR, they were able to get a pulse again before transporting Deys to Chinook Regional Hospital where he was flown by STARS to Foothills in Calgary.

Burton says the quick response made all the difference.

“Time is heart muscle in these types of cases. Not only saving time, but there are years and years of experience on the firetruck that came behind me, including my partner and all the guys who came with,” Burton explained, adding having all that help is crucial to getting a good outcome.

Deys reunited with the paramedics who helped save his life on Friday, and admitted that he was one of those people that when he’d see an ambulance and a firetruck respond to a call he’d think to himself, why?

“Now, I know why,” Deys said, fighting through emotions. “Because time is saved, and instead of having two people to perform CPR on me who knew what they were doing, I had seven people.”

Now that he’s seen firsthand the difference the integrated service can make, Deys wants the community to understand how important it is.

“These people are doing what they need to do. So, whether you’re paying a firefighter to sit around the station waiting for a fire, or whether you’re paying a firefighter to go out there and be a paramedic and save a life – having an ambulance and a firetruck there with paramedics who know how to do it, I’m living proof that it works,” Deys said.

Deys says his heart is back up to about 80 or 85 percent function, and with the right diet and exercise, he's hopeful he’ll be back to normal in a couple of weeks or maybe months.