A group of Ladysmith hockey players were socializing in the deserted parking lot of the Chemainus arena on a recent Friday night when they came to the aid of the Zamboni driver who had severed his thumb.
The six Ladysmith Cougars teammates had skated off the ice an hour earlier on Mar. 3 at the Fuller Lake Arena, and it was getting close to midnight, when the man called out to them for help.
“He was pretty calm and cool but he asked if any of us knew first aid,” said Travis Cnossen, describing the man had left hand that raised up above his head.
Nick Reilly, brother Nate Reilly, Teemu Hakala, Greg Rounis, Rob King and Cnossen quickly realized the situation was dire when they saw blood dripping from Zamboni driver’s glove.
“He said, I cut my thumb off and it’s in my hand,” said Cnossen.
The Municipality of North Cowichan employee, who has not been identified, was pale and sweating so the teammates assisted him inside to find a chair.
“First aid training definitely kicked in and that’s something all of us had been through at some point so it definitely helped,” said Cnossen.
“He’d actually called 9-1-1 himself when it had happened but we double-checked to make sure because you could tell he was in shock.”
Each of six Cougars played a role in the effort as they waited patiently for the ambulance to arrive.
King, a registered nurse at the Ladysmith Community Health Centre who is a substitute on the team, stayed with the man along with another teammate who knew first aid.
“We got him in a position of comfort and just had him take some deep breathes and relax,” said King. “The more deep breathes to slow the heart rate the more the person won’t be bleeding out as fast.”
In hopes of saving the thumb, Rounis and Cnossen ran down to the rink near the Zamboni where they collected some snow near and put it into a bag.
“By putting it on the ice it’s going to help preserve the thumb,” said King, explaining the quick thinking.
Another one of the Cougars waited out by the road to flag down the ambulance while the rest kept talking to the man and reassuring him that everything was going to be OK.
“You’re thinking the steps out as you go but you’re also trying to plan for what might come next,” said King.
The teammates had trouble finding a first aid kit and grabbed a roll of hockey tape instead to make a tourniquet around the man’s forearm to slow the blood loss.
“He had a glove on too which was good because that had some compression,” King said.
“We didn’t know how much blood he had lost at that point because he walked up from where he’d cut his thumb off down by the Zamboni, which was almost near the other side of the arena.”
North Cowichan’s Director of Parks and Recreation Ernie Mansueti said the employee’s thumb was reattached and the prognosis looks good.
“We’re just so grateful. It was amazing and appreciated by all,” he said. “They all coordinated between them and away they went.”
The incident is also being looked into by Workplace BC and Mansueti wasn’t able to comment on the circumstances leading up to the injury.
Eventually, the Cougars decided it was best to help the man back outside while they waited for the ambulance.
“The paramedics knew exactly where we were when they came and didn’t have to search around and find us inside the building,” King said.
The Cougars split games between Chemainus and Duncan and didn’t know the Zamboni driver personally but where happy to be in the right place at the right time. .
“I think it was just lucky that we were still at the arena because I think it was about an hour after the game had ended,” Cnossen said.
“You don’t ever want to see anybody like that, you just want to be there to help somebody if they need you. We’re just happy that his prognosis looks good and we wish him the best.”
King added that several circumstances, including fainting due to shock, could have led to a different outcome.
In this case, the man played “ a huge part in his recovery.”
“He was the real hero in saving his own life because he stayed very calm and came and got us at the right time,” he said. “His mood was very positive. A lot of people would freak out but he was very calm and collected.”