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‘Everyone should learn CPR’: Vernon man honoured for saving hockey player’s life

Jonny Rockall sprung into action when Al Winther went into cardiac arrest in February 2020
Al Winther (left) and Jonny Rockall were at a presentation of the Vital Link award at Kal Tire Place Friday, Dec. 2, 2022. Rockall earned the award after providing life-saving CPR to Winther in February 2020. (Brendan Shykora - Morning Star)

Jonny Rockall was Johnny on the spot when in February 2020 a recreational hockey player went into cardiac arrest in Vernon.

Al Winther wouldn’t be alive today without the life-saving cardio-pulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and automated external defibrillator (AED) administered by Rockall, a city employee, after Winther collapsed on the bench as he was about to take to the ice.

On Friday, Dec. 2, paramedics joined Rockall and Winther for an awards ceremony at Kal Tire Place, where Rockall’s heroics took place. Rockall was presented with the Vital Link award, an award given by BC Emergency Health Services (BCEHS) to people involved in saving a life through successful CPR efforts.

Fiona Morgenthaler-Code was the first paramedic on scene. At the ceremony, she described the events that took place at the arena on Feb. 21, 2020. Rockall was working at the arena at the time when Winther suddenly collapsed. Rockall had done CPR and AED training from being a volunteer firefighter for almost 10 years, and with another hockey player on the phone with 911, he sprung into action, laying Winther flat on the bench with his boots on the ice before starting chest compressions.

Rockall had never performed CPR in a real-life situation before, but after noticing Winther’s irregular breathing and colour he determined he was in cardiac arrest, and knew what to do.

When paramedics arrived, Winther had no pulse. Rockall explained to them what had happened and paramedics carried on with CPR and some cardiac medications.

“The team worked together and we managed to get pulses back eventually and have a successful outcome, but we couldn’t have done that without Jonny doing what he did right away in the moment,” Morgenthaler-Code said.

Winther was taken to Vernon Jubilee Hospital and later transferred to Kelowna General Hospital. He now has a defibrillator implanted in his chest, and while he’s not able to play hockey anymore he is in good health.

“Every minute counts in cardiac arrest. Jonny’s timely actions made all the difference for Allan. Jonny played an instrumental role in saving his life. If more people were brave and willing to step up like Jonny, deaths or serious lifelong effects caused by cardiac arrest could drop significantly,” said an emotional Morganthaler-Code, adding that “everyone should learn CPR.”

Morgenthaler-Code stressed the importance of learning CPR, saying that more than 45,000 Canadians suffer out-of-hospital cardiac arrest each year, and that bystander initiated CPR and AEDs can increase survival rates by up to 75 per cent.

After being in a coma for three days, Morganthaler-Code said Winther “miraculously” woke up, and 13 days later he walked into Kal Tire Place and met his saviour.

Rockall is sheepish about being called a hero, but says he would do it all again “in a second.” He and Winther have become good friends since the incident.

“I just did what I thought I needed to do and it turned out well,” Rockall said. “Thankfully I had some training, (but) all the training you do is with healthy people … and I knew when I got to Al that he wasn’t healthy, so something needed to happen quickly. I know it’s never for sure what the situation is but I just followed my gut and it worked out.”

Winther — whose former hockey team members, the Brewsers, were at the ceremony — thanked Rockall for giving him the gift of life.

“I’m just so thankful he was there that day and he had the training,” he said, adding that he thinks CPR training is “absolutely critical, and let’s hope that we can all get an increase in that training, because it does save lives and it certainly save my life.”

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Brendan Shykora
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Brendan Shykora

About the Author: Brendan Shykora

I started at the Morning Star as a carrier at the age of 8. In 2019 graduated from the Master of Journalism program at Carleton University.
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