What can we learn from Bob Probert?

On July 5, 2010, news of former NHL player Bob Probert’s sudden death hit the sports ticker. He had complained of chest pain earlier in the day, collapsed suddenly on his boat and died of an apparent heart attack. He was 45.

Probert was known for his tough guy hockey style. But this time, he lost the fight of his life. And it left many wondering what happened?

Anyone who is feeling dizzy, or has chest pain and collapses and then comes back needs to see a doctor immediately...if they stay unconscious, call 911 and start CPR immediately.
— Dr. Paul Dorian, Cardiologist

Dr. Paul Dorian, a cardiologist at St. Michael’s, says it’s a tragedy’s more common than you think. “I only know what I read in the newspapers, but when a death is sudden, like Probert’s, it’s usually the result of ventricular fibrillation—a severely abnormal heart rhythm that causes cardiac arrest and is 95% fatal. But what causes the ventricular fibrillation in the first place is often a ‘plumbing’ problem.”

The problem Dr. Dorian refers to includes hardening of the arteries and blockages that can go unrecognized for years. “Lots of people are vulnerable, even young people. You need to stop smoking, watch your weight and keep an eye on your blood pressure and cholesterol. Keeping these risk factors in check helps reduce the chance of cardiac arrest because it minimizes any plumbing problems."

Thanks to donor support, Dr. Dorian is now working on a research study that looks more closely at cases like Bob Probert. “We’re in the early days of study called the “FAMILY” study that aims to understand why some people, like Mr. Probert, with blockages go into cardiac arrest and some don’t,” he says. “We’re interviewing families to get more details into their loved one’s death, such as whether he or she exhibited any signs before collapsing.”

What if someone you know collapses suddenly? Dr. Dorian’s advice is to get them to the hospital immediately. “Anyone who is feeling dizzy, or has chest pain and collapses and then comes back needs to see a doctor immediately—there could be a window of opportunity. Of course, if they stay unconscious, call 911 and start CPR immediately.”