The death of Alan Thicke — is hockey OK for seniors?

Five players over the age of 65 have suffered heart attacks during, or just after, games at Parksville's Oceanside Arena the past five years

Al Greir has watched them fall — and get right back up on their skates.

The death of 69-year-old Canadian actor Alan Thicke this week while playing hockey in Los Angeles has raised questions about the suitability of the game for the senior set.

Greir, a former Parksville city councillor who will turn 80 next year, said he has seen five men suffer heart attacks during or just after games at Oceanside Arena in the past five years.

“We’ve had several of our players go down on the ice or in the dressing room and the defibrillator has saved them,” said Greir. “And they are still playing. They’ve had a stent thrown in and away they go.”

Greir has been part of the September Classic for all of its 16 years. For five years he was the chief organizer of the hockey tournament for the 55-and-over crowd. More than 500 players come to Parksville every year for the event and some players are well past their 80th birthdays.

After Thicke’s death, a cardiologist told The Canadian Press there’s no right age for someone to hang up their skates.

Dr. Todd Anderson, director of the Libin Cardiovascular Institute of Alberta and a spokesman for the Canadian Heart and Stroke Foundation, said he discourages strenuous activity for people at risk, such as those with heart disease.

But Anderson said he tells healthy patients to enjoy activities such as hockey, as long as they’re not trying to play like they’re 25-years-old.

Greir agreed with that assessment.

“It’s far healthier than it is dangerous,” said Greir. “As long as you’re feeling good and can skate and have fun — that’s what it’s all about. At our age there’s not a lot of fun to be had, but hockey is one of them.”

The first time Oceanside Arena staff used the automated external defibrillator (AED) was in September of 2011. Parksville Golden Oldies hockey player Bernie Diakow, 81 at the time, was saved by the CPR performed on him by a fellow player and arena staff, and then the use of the AED, before paramedics arrived.

Diakow was not only the first person to receive shocks from the AED — he also launched the fundraising campaign to buy the equipment for the Parksville Golden Oldies Sports Association (PGOSA).

The B.C. Ambulance Service gave their Vital Link Awards in 2012 to arena staff Mike Chestnut, Charles Stockand, John Marcellus and Clayton Bannatyne for helping saves the life of Diako and two other hockey players over the age of 65.

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