Heart attack at marathon finish line doesn't stop Montreal man

When Stéphane Demers laces up his sneakers and takes his mark at today's Oasis Rock 'n' Roll marathon in Montreal, he's hoping he'll remember crossing the finish line.

Stéphane Demers will run this weekend, alongside the doctor who saved his life

Stéphane Demers will be running in a Montreal marathon this weekend despite having suffered a heart attack at the same event last year. (Submitted by: Jacques de Champlain Foundation)

When Stéphane Demers laces up his sneakers and takes his mark at today's Oasis Rock 'n' Roll marathon in Montreal, he's hoping he'll remember crossing the finish line.

"Hopefully it'll be really different than last year," said Demers, an avid jogger for the past decade.

The 46-year-old Montrealer, who now lives in Moncton, N.B., took part in the charity race last year, but 50 metres from the finish line, he collapsed.

I don't remember anything that happened to me.- Stéphane Demers, heart attack survivor

"I don't remember the last 15 minutes of my race, so I don't remember anything that happened to me just a couple of feet before the [finish] line," Demers told CBC News.

He doesn't remember it because he had no pulse and no heartbeat.

Emergency medical teams ran over to him and rushed him across the finish line on a stretcher as they headed towards the medical tent on-site.

A medical team tries to revive Stéphane Demers inside the medical tent, set up just past the finish line, at last year's Oasis Rock 'n' Roll marathon in Montreal. (Submitted by: Dr. Wayne Choi/Jacques de Champlain Foundation)

After eight minutes of CPR, cardiac massages and the use of an automatic external defibrillator, Demers' heart was beating again.

"We stabilized him and then transferred him to the hospital," said Dr. François de Champlain, the marathon's medical director.

The incident hit home with de Champlain, who founded and heads up the Jacques de Champlain Foundation in honour of his father, who died under similar circumstances.

De Champlain's father was biking in Quebec's Eastern Townships in July 2009 when he suffered a heart attack. In the rural area, there was no first responder service and no quick access to a defibrillator — which de Champlain said made all the difference in Demers' case.

"They save lives, it's proven. Stéphane's life was saved by that machine," de Champlain said.

He went to visit Demers in hospital the next day, and they struck up a friendship.

'It was really emotional'

Demers underwent bypass surgery at the McGill University Health Centre and was hospitalized for five weeks. One of his arteries was 90 per cent blocked.

During his recovery, he decided he wanted to watch the news footage of his collapse at the finish line.

"I was trying to understand what happened because I didn't remember anything.… It was really emotional. I had to stop it a couple of times," Demers said. "Normally I am not someone who's really emotional, but that time was difficult."

Demers said his partner of 28 years, Lynne Nadeau, and his two children, encouraged him get back on his feet.

Stéphane Demers says his biggest supporters have been his partner Lynne Nadeau and their two children. (Submitted by: Jacques de Champlain Foundation)

Now, a year later, Demers runs five kilometres, three to four times per week.

He decided to give the event another shot, but with a few conditions.

He'll only be running the 5K on Sunday, and he'll have a running buddy: Demers will run alongside the doctor who saved his life at last year's event.

Dr. François de Champlain treated Stéphane Demers last year after his heart attack. This year, the two will run together in the marathon. (Submitted by: Jacques de Champlain Foundation)
"I joked that I'd run next to him, but with a defibrillator on my back," said de Champlain. "I will be really proud of him when he crosses the finish line. I can't imagine how he'll feel being so close to the spot where he almost died."

Demers said he can't wait to see his wife waiting for him at the finish line.

"For me, it's a way to create new memories of the race."

With files from CBC Montreal's Daybreak