A one-two punch he didn’t see coming

A sudden heart condition surprised former CFL player Paul Hickie. Then came a stroke
Paul Hickie playing in a CFL game

Paul Hickie in action during his CFL career..

Paul Hickie has lived a full life. He punted in the Canadian Football League for both the Edmonton Eskimos and the Saskatchewan Roughriders; he was a junior hockey player and has enjoyed playing in charity games with the likes of Lanny McDonald. He’s happily married with two daughters and will soon become a grandfather. After his time with the CFL, Paul built a new career and is now vice president of sales with LaPrairie Group of Companies in Calgary.

Being physically active has always been part of Paul’s life. After football, he continued playing hockey, is an avid golfer and regularly walks his four-legged kids. He’s never smoked, maintains a good weight, and he and his wife, Penny, eat a healthy diet.

<p>Paul and Penny with their daughter Karli at her wedding.</p>

Paul and Penny with their daughter Karli at her wedding.

In April 2016, on holiday in Mexico, Paul snorkelled with turtles and stingrays and shot a 74 on a golf course he’d never seen before. But soon after he came home, Paul didn’t feel well.

It was a flu that he figured would soon go away. When he finally went to the hospital 12 days later, his kidneys were failing and he had a bacterial infection. A few days after his release from hospital, Paul had a stroke.

Damaged heart valve

It turned out that the bacterial infection had attacked Paul’s heart, causing inflammation called endocarditis. It damaged his aortic valve, resulting in a blood clot that caused the stroke. He was left with complete paralysis on his left side. Just eight days after his stroke Paul had open-heart surgery to replace his aortic valve. 

Paul’s experience underscores the links between conditions that affect the heart and brain. Those links are the focus of a Heart & Stroke report called (Dis)connected. The report shows much deeper connections than were previously understood between heart conditions and stroke as well as vascular cognitive impairment — cognitive decline caused by abnormalities in the small blood vessels of the brain. 

The report urges people who have a heart condition, stroke or vascular cognitive impairment to make sure their doctors are checking for other related conditions. 

Lingering effects

To see Paul today, you’d never know he’d had a stroke. But he knows. He has no feeling in his left hand; he experiences nerve pain on his left side that is often debilitating. Some days are better than others; tying a tie for an executive meeting can be the toughest part of his day. But he has the will and determination to do it, and regular exercise helps to reduce the pain.

<p>Paul has returned to golfing since his stroke.</p>

Paul has returned to golfing since his stroke.

Paul is back to work, and he still loves to golf — although his handicap isn’t what it used to be. He hasn’t played hockey since the stroke, but hopes he will again.

“I didn’t see my heart condition or the stroke coming — it was out of the blue. I want Canadians to know that if it happened to me, it could happen to you. Don’t ignore your body, go see your doctor before it’s too late,” says Paul. 

“And my message isn’t just for men,” he adds. “I’ve learned that heart disease and stroke is as big a risk for women, and we don’t seem to realize that. I have a wife whom I adore, and two beautiful daughters. You can bet that I’ve shared this message with them!”