By Bill Hudson

By Bill Hudson, WCCO-TV

Making saves are a key part of any hockey game, as goalies perform acrobatics to keep the opponent’s puck from entering the net. But the biggest save at a recent girl’s hockey tournament in Edina didn’t involve the puck at all, but rather, a referee.

For 54-year old Kevin Whipple, ice arenas are a comfortable “home away from home.” During hockey season, Whipple will officiate anywhere between 10 and 15 games a week.

“I’ve been a hockey official a little over 25 years,” Whipple said.

However, it was a Thanksgiving weekend game that nearly ended his life. It was his third game of the day and the U-14 girls were skating at a particularly rapid pace.

“The last thing I remembered before I blacked out, I was feeling dizzy and I put my hands out to catch my fall,” recalled Whipple.

With just 25 seconds remaining in the first period, Whipple lost consciousness and crashed face first to the ice.

Luckily, there was someone in the crowd who noticed the severity of the situation.

“I just had the feeling it didn’t look right,” said Justin Johnson, an off-duty Minneapolis Firefighter.

Johnson was at the Braemar Ice Arena, working his second job for Blue Line Medical Services, which supplies Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs) to sporting events.

Within seconds, Johnson found himself confronted with a life or death situation. Only this time, he didn’t have his fellow firefighters there to back him up.

“I grabbed my medical bag, ran onto the ice and turned him over and he was in cardiac arrest,” said Johnson.

Whipple had stopped breathing and his heart had stopped pumping blood to his brain and other organs. Johnson knew immediately he’d have to begin cardio pulmonary resuscitation or CPR.

As the young firefighter began performing rapid chest compressions on Whipple, a doctor who was among the spectators, watching his daughter’s game, came to assist with the lifesaving attempts.

To Whipple’s good fortune, a registered nurse and a physical therapist also jumped into action. They immediately ran to the front lobby where Braemar arena had an automated external defibrillator or AED. That defibrillator would analyze Kevin’s heart rhythm and quickly determined it was necessary to administer an electric shock to return its normal beat.

“It shocked him right back instantly after we shocked him,” remembered Johnson.

By the time Edina firefighters and paramedics arrived, Kevin was alert and talking. He was transported by ambulance to Park Nicollet Methodist Hospital where he underwent stent surgery to open three blocked coronary arteries.

After a short stay in the hospital, Whipple returned to work on Tuesday, ever thankful for the quick thinking firefighter and the life-saving device hanging on the wall.

“It’s just hard to believe how lucky I am,” said Whipple.

He hopes his case is a further testament to the need to have AEDs in all public buildings and reason for all of us to become trained in CPR.

WCCO-TV’s Bill Hudson Reports

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