Heartfelt thanks

The B.C. Ambulance Service would like to see more people learn the same CPR skills that helped two people save Eugene Helliwell's life. That's what the Vital Link medals were all about Wednesday.

During the summer, Cooney Bay attracts dog walkers, hikers, boaters and other people seeking a little peace and quiet on the outskirts of Kamloops.

On Aug. 28, Eugene Helliwell loaded up his 16-foot canoe and told his wife Shelley he was heading to Jacko Lake.

But as he hit the road, he changed his mind and headed to Cooney Bay instead.

It was a change that probably saved his life.

Helliwell paddled around for more than an hour, then heaved the 45-kilogram canoe onto his shoulder and carried it up a small hill to the parking lot.

He gave a grunt of acknowlegement as he passed Alex and Lynn McLean, who were out for a walk and gave him a friendly hi.

At the parking lot, Helliwell felt a little out of breath. He heaved the canoe into the back of his truck.

"I felt dizzy and passed out," he said Wednesday.

***

Lynn McLean saw Helliwell drop to the ground. She told her husband she felt there was something wrong. Alex McLean felt the guy was just tired and resting after hauling up the canoe.

"My initial response was let the guy rest," he said.

But his wife insisted so, to keep the household peace, they checked on him.

When they got closer, they realized Helliwell was in trouble. He wasn't breathing.

Alex is a dentist and knows CPR as a part of his job. He felt for a pulse and began compressions.

Lynn ran down to the beach to yell for help.

***

Laurel Scott had taken her grandmother out for a drive to Cooney Bay. While her grandmother waited in the truck, Scott, wearing shorts, walked her dogs on the beach.

She heard Lynn's cries for help.

Scott has been a youth worker for 23 years. The job requires she get CPR training every two years. Just three months earlier, she had had her latest recertification.

She took over compressions from McLean, her bare knees being gouged by gravel as she worked on Helliwell.

"I yelled at him 'If I'm going to work this hard, you can do some work, too. Get breathing!'" she recalled.

"I still have gravel scars on my knees."

***

Paramedic Jack Grant arrived with his partner and another ambulance to find Scott, McLean and another bystander named Randy all trying to help an unconscious Helliwell.

The 50-year-old Air-Ease Distributors employee was in and out of cardiac arrest several times before defibrillations and medications kicked in and stabilized him.

In the ambulance en route to Royal Inland Hospital, Helliwell woke up and was alert enough that Grant called his wife and put Shelley on the phone with him.

Although Helliwell didn't recall hearing Scott yelling at him, he got an earful from his spouse who was shocked and frightened to discover he'd gone somewhere other than Jacko Lake and had had a heart attack.

"I was giving him heck," she said.

***

Helliwell's near-death experience left a trail of lessons in its wake.

He learned to tell his wife where he's going. He also learned strangers can be selfless. He heard about McLean saving his life and, with Shelley, took the dentist a basket and a huge thank you.

He learned on Wednesday that Scott and a man from out of province named Randy also helped save his life.

Scott learned all those CPR upgrades can pay off.

"He looks way better. He was a grayish blue the last time I saw him," she said.

She learned not to second-guess her skills.

"It was afterward I thought, did I do that right?"

McLean learned his wife has good instincts.

He also learned how a skill he says anyone can learn in five minutes can be worth a lifetime.

"Are you going to walk away if you know what to do?"

And he learned how grateful someone can be when they get their life back.

"He's just a genuinely nice guy," McLean said of Helliwell, who he's met a few times now.

***

On Wednesday, B.C. Ambulance Service superintendent Paul Vallely presented Scott and McLean with Vital Link medals for using CPR to save someone's life.

"If not for these two individuals, this gentleman would not be here today," he said in a short ceremony in the bay of the North Shore ambulance station.

"Your quick thinking and selfless act of heroism led to Eugene surviving cardiac arrest."

The survival rate for someone who gets CPR from a bystander is four times greater than that without, Vallely said.

The BCAS would like to see more people learn CPR. Dispatchers are even able to give instructions over the phone to people who are at a scene.

***

Helliwell has had heart problems all his life - he's on his third pacemaker and second aortic valve.

His life was saved in more than one way on Aug. 28. When he went in for his subsequent heart surgery, it was discovered his aorta was enlarged and could have burst at any time.

It was fixed during his 10 hours of heart surgery. And Helliwell is making a remarkable recovery - even Grant was surprised to see how well he was doing Wednesday.

Helliwell said he'll be going back to Cooney Bay this summer. And he hopes to see Scott and McLean there. He knows how he'll greet them.

"You just can't say 'Thank you' enough."

myoung@kamloopsnews.ca

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