Sens commentator Gord Wilson opens up about his heart attack and the staff at the Heart Institute
They’re two of hockey’s best. Teammates for more than 30 years.
"We’re very much the same kind of person," says play-by-play NHL hockey broadcaster, Dean Brown.
"We like to have fun, we like to think we’re funny, and we both love hockey."
NHL hockey colour commentator, Gord Wilson, agrees.
"One hundred per cent," Wilson says.
"We absolutely love it. Every day, every game. It’s just fantastic."
But three years ago this month, there were fears that Wilson’s game days may be jeopardized by a sudden and frightening health scare.
"It’s almost three years to the day here and you still feel the emotions of that day," says Wilson, his voice breaking.
Wilson was at home, getting ready to head to the Canadian Tire Centre but was feeling unwell.
"I was doing my prep work at home and obviously felt that something was wrong."
"What I remember the most is that he was grey," says Patricia Boal, CTV News Ottawa anchor and Wilson’s former spouse, who was with him at the time of the heart attack.
"His colour was just so different from what it normally is."
"I knew my colour had changed. My arms could not be lifted over my shoulders. I was experiencing what I know as a heart attack," Wilson said.
"Fortunately, Trish was home, and she gave me one look and said we’re going to call the paramedics right away. They were amazing. They did an ECG right away in my living room and yes, I was having a heart attack," says Wilson.
Dean Brown and Gord Wilson in the stands at the CTC watching a Sens pre-game skate (Joel Haslam/CTV News Ottawa)
It was an unnerving and emotional time, as paramedics prepared Wilson for transport to the hospital.
"My then 15-year-old daughter was watching all of this the entire time," he said.
"You’re hoping and desperately believing everything is going to be fine, but you don’t know in that moment, as he’s going out the door, if this is her last chance to maybe say goodbye," says Boal.
“So, as I’m pulling her up and saying, ‘Say a quick goodbye to your dad’, not trying to sound panicked, that reality kind of hits you. You don’t know what’s going to happen," says an emotional Boal.
Wilson was feeling equally anxious. At the same time, he was worried about disappointing fans and players at a game that evening. The Sens were retiring Chris Phillip’s jersey and Wilson was slated to host the ceremonies.
"The job is so important to me. I just love it. I’m grabbing my work bag as I’m getting in the ambulance and I’m looking at Trish saying, 'I’ll meet you at the rink, bring this to the rink for me and I’ll be able to do the game,'" he says.
Wilson, of course, was unable to attend. But Phillips ensured he was there in spirit.
"Chris Phillips was so sweet. He gave Gord a beautiful shout out in the hallway on Philly’s special night, saying how much he would have loved for Gord to be there. That was so, so meaningful for Gord, and we were so appreciative of him doing that," says Boal.
Players, family, colleagues and close friends were now cheering for Wilson’s recovery.
"I think the first thing you are is scared. You’re scared for your friend," says Brown.
"After this long, it’s someone you love. It’s not just a guy you work with," he said.
Wilson was now in the care of another team at the University of Ottawa Heart Institute.
"The care and the accuracy in everybody doing their job, and doing it properly, it’s lifesaving," says a teary Wilson.
"The Heart Institute team was unreal."
"It was a mild heart attack and not a lot of damage done to the heart, thankfully."
Wilson had several blockages. He would not require open-heart surgery, but stents to open his arteries.
"A hat trick of stents, thanks for asking," says a smiling Wilson.
"The care that he received at the Heart Institute was just incredible," says Boal.
Dean Brown and Gord Wilson ready to begin their broadcast from their booth at the Canadian Tire Centre. (Joel Haslam/CTV News Ottawa)
After a few days, Wilson was released and on the road to recovery.
There would be more challenges ahead. A month after his heart attack, he had COVID.
And recently, his daughter Kristin had surgery and treatment for breast cancer, while expecting her second child.
"I can’t be more proud of the strength that girl has shown," he says.
"She had a mastectomy and four sessions of chemo. The fourth session ended around 6 p.m. and she went home around 8 p.m., two hours later, had her first contraction. So, less than 24 hours after that, Lennox was born. Everyone is doing well."
"You look down and there’s a six-pound, two ounce, full head of hair baby that is just a miracle."
"We’re a really close family. That’s the beauty of it. We’re family but we’re best friends," says Wilson.
Gord Wilson with his daughter Kristin and his newborn grandchild, Lennox. (Supplied)
Thanks to the Heart Institute team, Wilson will be here to watch his family’s life adventures unfold.
"I have four spectacular children, all with the gift of humour, all of them an inspiration," he says with tears in his eyes.
"And two golden retrievers who drag me around the neighbourhood and try to keep me younger than I am," he smiles.
While they remain very close friends, Wilson and Boal have separated.
"We have been for about a year and a half, but he is the most amazing co-parent you could ask for, the most amazing friend," says Boal.
"And now, when I see him interacting with the kids, you have that moment thinking it’s because of the Heart Institute. He is here and able to do this and be fully involved in their lives and what a gift that is," she says with a smile.
Gord Wilson enjoying a family celebration at the cottage. (Supplied)
Wilson’s friend and sidekick at the rink couldn’t agree more.
"There is no chance in your life that someone you know, or someone you love is not going to need the Heart Institute," Brown says.
"So, I’m making a pitch, this is my commercial," he says, looking into my camera lens.
"Call, make a pledge, support the Heart Institute. There is no way it will not be a part of your life," says Brown.
Seated in the stands behind his friend, a smiling Gord Wilson shapes his hands in the form of a heart—an expression of love from a sports guy elated to still be in the game.
"The Heart Institute was unreal. To see that team in action was phenomenal and I’m forever grateful."
You can support the University of Ottawa Heart Institute by attending a Sens game at the Canadian Tire Centre on Feb. 27 or 28. A portion of the proceeds from 50/50 ticket sales will support life-saving research at the UOHI. To learn more, visit Februaryisheartmonth.ca.
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