Rescuers recognized in Parksville

Opening of new ambulance station was opportunity to honour civilians

Heart attack survivor Gary Shaw of Parksville

A Parksville man who suffered a heart attack while bicycling in April got to meet and thank his rescuers Tuesday in a ceremony held during the grand opening of the new B.C. Ambulance Service station in Parksville.

Gary Shaw, 72, presented B.C. Emergency Health Services Vital Link Awards to Rick Ehlers, Rod Gourlay and Christina Harringa, who rushed to his aid after Shaw collapsed while riding with his wife Lorrie on Morningstar Drive. The trio was credited with keeping Shaw alive until paramedics arrived on the scene.

“I don’t remember anything (of the incident),” Shaw said. “But to hear how all these people helped me, it’s just very overwhelming. I’m so grateful.”

The event, which included a ribbon-cutting and open house reception at the six-month-old ambulance station behind the Oceanside Health Centre, was attended by Parksville-Qualicum MLA Michelle Stilwell and the Vancouver Island hierarchy of B.C. Ambulance. Jodi Jensen, chief operating officer based in Victoria, presented a plaque to Parksville unit chief Robbie Jai to commemorate the new station’s opening.

But the headliners of the day were Ehlers, Gourlay and Harringa, whose quick action was credited with saving Shaw.

Ehlers and Gourlay were golfing when they witnessed Shaw collapse, and rushed over. Ehlers checked for a pulse and began cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) while Gourlay called 9-1-1. Harringa, who was walking her dog at the time, monitored the patient’s airway.

“There’s a sense of relief when you see that bystanders are on the phone with the dispatcher, listening to their instructions and trying to help us save a patient,” said Jai, who was the first paramedic on the scene, along with his partner, Sandy Ranger. “It gives the patient a greater chance of survival and makes our job a bit easier.”

Ehlers said he had taken a CPR course some years ago, and fortunately had taken a refresher course within the last year at Oceanside Place Arena. He said he was worried about hurting Shaw with his vigorous chest compressions, but was relieved when the paramedics quickly arrived and administered even more vigorous chest compressions and used an automated external defibrillator to shock Shaw’s heart.

“My advice to others is to not be afraid to get involved,” Ehlers said. “This award is great but the real reward is knowing that we helped save a life.”

Also attending with the paramedic team was 19-year-old Eric Gill, a student with the Justice Institute who has since become a member of the B.C. Ambulance Service.

“When we arrived I started doing chest compressions, then Eric applied the defibrillator,” said Ranger. “When I started the compressions again, (Shaw) reached up to pull my hands away. I’d never had that happen before.”

Lorrie Shaw said she and her husband had been planning to cycle in Holland this month while vacationing with friends.

“That was our first bike outing of the season,” she said of the April ride. “We thought we should start getting ready for our trip.”

That vacation was put on hold but, thanks to the quick action of Gary’s rescuers, still remains a possibility.

“We’re hoping to make plans and try again next spring,” she said.

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