On Thursday, as the Dallas Stars were getting ready to head into a possibly season-defining, or at least season-preserving, back-to-back set, Rich Peverley returned to the ice.
It wasn't a hard skate by any means - Peverley described it as "leisurely" - but it was a key step toward normalcy in a month that has turned his entire world upside down.
"I just put my skates on, and I wanted to shoot on our goalies," Peverley said at a press conference before Friday's game. "It was (a little hesitant) initially, but I think that all got wiped away real quick. Initially coming in (the American Airlines Center) too, that was tough because my last memories were of the ceiling pretty much. So I think I was really glad to overcome those really quick."
Thursday's skate was the first time Peverley had been on the ice since his terrifying collapse from sudden cardiac arrest at the AAC on March 10. He had a cardiac ablation last Monday with the goal of permanently correcting the cranky electrical pathway that caused his atrial fibrillation issues, the underlying heart condition that doctors theorize played a key role in the episode of ventricular fibrillation that caused the arrest.
As team physician Dr. Robert Dimeff described it, the ablation was designed to essentially short-circuit the bad electrical pathway and keep it from throwing the rest of the heart's electrical system out of balance. The procedure has a success rate of about 85 percent in otherwise young, healthy people, and it could be performed again if it is not successful this time around. Doctors won't know for a few months if Peverley is among that 85 percent.
For the moment, Peverley isn't ready to answer the question of if he'll ever play again, though it certainly sounds like that's his long-term plan if everything goes right.
"It's a question that I think I initially really wanted to know the answer to, and it's going to be a process of coming back," Peverley said. "The recovery process is going to take time. As cliche as it sounds, I've really learned in the past way that it really is day by day. I went on the ice yesterday, and ultimately my goal would be to come back if it was the right time."
As for the short-term recovery, it's going as smoothly as could be hoped. Peverley returned to Dallas two days after his procedure at the Cleveland Clinic and is slowing increasing his physical activity while recovering.
"He's still being monitored on a regular basis," Dimeff said.
"He's on medication to keep the heart rate slow. He's on medication for blood thinning, which is required after the procedure. At this point in time, we're really just ramping up his exercise intensity slowly and monitoring him closely."
Peverley said he remembered basically everything about the night of his collapse, though he needed a little memory jog to recall the final shift. When he came back to the bench, he said he felt like he was "seizing up" before he blacked out, and the next thing he knew, he was waking up on the floor in the hallway behind the benches.
Since that incident, he's heard from people around the hockey world, from former teammates to those who have been in similar situations. Jiri Fischer reached out to Jim Nill and eventually was able to chat with Peverley, and Stephane Robidas helped connect Peverley with a player who went through a similar event in Europe.
And like anyone involved in a near-death situation, it has made Peverley think about things a little bit differently.
"I think you appreciate life." Peverley said. "I have a beautiful family and two kids and a wife. Initially, you do think about if you weren't here for them, and that's kind of tough. I'm lucky to be here, and there's not a day that goes by that I'm not thankful for that."
His teammates were a huge help to his family in the days after the incident, including trading off the job of bringing meals over to the Peverley family. In turn, he's been back at the rink almost every day he can since being released from the hospital, trying to be there for his teammates in any way he can while not on the ice.
In fact, Friday's press conference was a way of getting the focus back on his teammates as well.
"If I say I hate it, then people are going to say, 'Great, he hates it,'" Peverley said with a chuckle when asked if he was uncomfortable with the fact that the incident placed him in such individual focus. "But I don't want the spotlight. I've never been that type... It's not something I'm searching for. I feel horrible for the team. I don't want this to be a sideshow. I know they're going for the playoffs. They're only a few points out. The focus should be on them and them trying to make the playoffs for the city, and I'm hoping that this can be put to rest and everyone can move on after this.
"I'm doing well now. I'm under great care, and I wish the team the best. And that's why I'm hoping to be there to support them. They've supported me."