All his professional life, Antony Cheng had been lunging and leaping forward. The 25-year-old figure skater won three Canadian National medals and an international competition, before going on to work alongside Olympic coaches, to train other skaters. He’s danced in commercials and music videos, and for the Toronto Raptor’s G League team, and choreographed in the United States, Mexico, Australia and France. He’s even demonstrated his skating and dancing techniques for tens of thousands of social media followers.
Antony’s athleticism—his ability to move in unconventional ways—offered a rewarding professional life. But his willingness to take chances and push artistic boundaries was his Achilles’ heel one wintry morning.
He was figure skating for a promotional video on Lake Ontario, just off Toronto Island. The shoot had wrapped. That’s when he fell through a thin sheet of ice, plunging into the frigid water below. When he reached out over the broken chunks of ice, the current kept pulling him farther away from shore. But even though he didn’t know how to swim—in fact, drowning had always been his worst nightmare—he managed to stay afloat with his backpack. He also managed to settle himself down, making peace with his predicament, as he awaited help. Still, he says, “that 15 minutes spent in the icy waters seemed like a lifetime.”
Antony was extricated from the lake by the marine unit of Toronto Paramedic Services and rushed to St. Michael’s Hospital, where the Slaight Family Emergency Department (ED) team found him in and out of consciousness, and discovered that his body temperature had fallen dangerously to 27 degrees Celsius. They treated him for hypothermia: they warmed him up with intravenous fluids, a full-body air blanket and other covers, while monitoring his vital signs.
Just five more minutes, Antony recalls one of the emergency doctors telling him, in a brief moment of awareness. That’s how long Antony had to live without medical intervention. Other ED team members told him that he was lucky to be still breathing.
Two weeks later, the headaches went away, and after a month, the feeling in his hands returned, although his fingertips remained numb. He returned to performing, coaching and choreographing—his spirit of adventure never waning. But he describes his near-death experience on the ice as an awakening, and his care at the hospital as a miracle—far more meaningful than his string of figure skating victories.
“The entire medical team and hospital staff have my hugest, sincerest thanks,” he says. “Their own brand of professionalism and compassion, together with the hospital’s latest equipment, all sort of fell into place for me on the day of my accident. I’m ever grateful to be alive.”
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