Racquetball Hall-of-Famer gets the “shock” of his life

Racquetball champion and state Hall-of-Famer Rick Schacht

Racquetball champion and state Hall-of-Famer Rick Schacht

Rick Schacht (pronounced “shocked”) got the shock of his life on Thursday, October 3 just as he was beginning his tie-breaking game at the 2013 US OPEN Racquetball Championships in Minneapolis last month.

“I was berating myself because I just couldn’t seem to focus,” he recalls. “I remember being in the service box and feeling lightheaded. I said to myself, ‘Good grief, you let yourself get out of shape, and now you’re going to faint.”

But Schacht didn’t faint, he died. He had a cardiac arrest – right on the racquetball court. No pulse. No respirations. That’s when a series of lucky events began to take place: Staff at Lifetime Fitness in St. Louis Park sprang to action and placed an AED on Schacht. Someone called 911. Paramedics arrived. Hennepin County Medical Center prepared its cardiac cath lab for his arrival.

“My first memory after that was hearing someone calling my name. I kept saying, ‘What? What do you want?’ and I was irritated because I was in the middle of a match. The person calling my name was the paramedic. He asked me what my date of birth was and I told him, still irritated that he was bothering me during the match. The paramedic smiled. I didn’t understand why he was smiling, then I realized that I was talking to a paramedic and that I was not in my game. I saw my racquetball partner walk by, and I told her, ‘Hey Jo, I don’t think I can make the match tonight.’”

The next thing he remembers was being in the ambulance, wearing an oxygen mask and pulling it down to ask if someone had called his wife. They said yes, to which Schacht replied, “Well, this isn’t going to go very well.’”

According to HCMC cardiologist Dr. Fouad Bachour, national statistics show that nine out of 10 people who suffer cardiac arrest don’t make it. But Schacht is one of the lucky people who have their cardiac arrest witnessed by others. If he had been alone in his shop at home in Zumbrota, or out on a walk on his farm, the outcome would not have been the same.

“He’s an extremely lucky guy,” explains Dr. Bachour. “To essentially drop dead while playing racquetball, and then leave the hospital just 72 hours later with normal heart function, it’s just amazing – and a testament to the excellent coordination of services, including the quick response from people at the scene.”

It took the ambulance 10 minutes to make it to HCMC, where a life-saving stent was installed within 39 minutes by Dr. Bachour.

“Some people take 39 minutes to decide what to have for dinner. This is all the time it took for my life to be saved,” said Schacht.

“Although he was awake and talking when he arrived at the HCMC, we still had to identify the source of the arrest. “He was taken to the cath lab and Rick was found to have a 99 percent blockage in the main artery that goes to the front of his heart,” explains Dr. Bachour. The blockage was rapidly stented, resulting in normal blood flow without any significant heart damage.”

On his way home from the hospital, less than 4 days after dying on the racquetball court at Lifetime Fitness, Schacht stopped by to thank the staff. “They were actually in the middle of a staff meeting talking about what happened when I showed up. They just looked and me and couldn’t believe it. Someone said, ‘this is the guy!’ and then someone said, ‘you look much better standing up than lying down.’”

April Sunday on the DeckApparently Schacht’s cardiac arrest was no match for this fierce competitor, who’s been playing racquetball for more than 32 years. He’s a state champion, and earlier this year was inducted into the Minnesota Racquetball Hall of Fame. He lifts weights and works out regularly, and practices on the court four times a week during competition season. “I don’t like to think I’m competitive, but everyone thinks I am. They always say that I can make a 4-way stop a competition,” he laughs.

Dr. Bachour is very impressed with his outcome, and recalls what Schacht told him when he met him at the hospital. “He was alert enough to say that watching the HCMC staff care for him was like watching a well-rehearsed commercial for a medical hospital – everything seemed to be done so perfectly.”

Schacht turns 53 on November 4, but he now calls every day his birthday. And even with hundreds of tournament wins under his belt, he believes getting “shocked” on the court was his best win.

“I don’t know who officially won this year’s US Open Racquetball Championship,” said Schacht, “but no one was a bigger winner than I was.”

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