DALLAS – Detroit defenseman Jiri Fischer has a tough decision, but he will have plenty of case studies on which to base it.

Fischer collapsed on the bench Monday after his heart went into a “terminal rhythm,” or basically stopped. Quick work by trainers, team doctors and emergency medical technicians revived Fischer quickly, and he was discharged from the hospital Wednesday. Still, the 25-year-old must avoid physical activity for four to six weeks, then decide whether he wants to resume his career.

Detroit team doctor Tony Colucci said he’s not sure what tests will reveal and is not sure if doctors will ever know exactly what happened to cause Fischer’s heart to stop. Fischer could have an enlarged heart – the same condition that killed basketball players Hank Gathers and Reggie Lewis – or he could have “electrical” problems, which several NHL players have managed.

Former defenseman Doug Zmolek had an incident in the 1994 preseason in Oklahoma City and had to have his heartbeat “normalized.” Former defenseman Kevin Dean had to be revived with a defibrillator in 1999 in a Wisconsin hospital while away from the team. And former defenseman Teppo Numminen had an electrical problem and enlarged aorta in 2003-04 that forced him to miss five games and consider ending his career.

Stars athletic trainer Dave Surprenant was there with those players and watched each of them return to play.

“There are problems that you can have with your heart that are more serious than others, just like there are problems you can have with your knee that are more serious,” Surprenant said. “We’ve been fortunate in that we have had heart problems that we’ve been able to manage.”

Surprenant said he has a defibrillator on the bench during games and practices. He also carries one on the team plane. In addition, there are EMTs at every Stars home game.

So while dealing with the heart in a sports scenario is scary, trainers have been on top of it for years. That said, it’s tough to risk one’s life to play a sport. Fischer has made millions playing hockey ($1.3 million this season), and he would probably get a sizable settlement if this forced him to retire.

But many athletes can and choose to manage their heart issues rather than hang up the skates. Numminen is playing in Buffalo at age 37 and appears to have no problem with his heart.

“It (the aorta) grows and eventually it will grow to the point they have to replace the valve,” Numminen said. “That will be a surgery hopefully 10, 20, 30 years from now. Doctors say I’m OK to do what I do, and there’s no risks involved.”

Still, he admitted the Fischer incident was scary.

“You’ve got to think about it. You’ve got to live through it,” Numminen said. “The more you know, the easier it is to deal with it. That’s why I’m comfortable with it.”

Whether Fischer feels the same way is to be determined.


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