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Essex-Windsor EMS connects cardiac arrest survivors with paramedics

Updated: May 30

Paramedics and bystanders pose for photo.

Those who survived cardiac arrest in 2023 and the paramedics and bystanders who saved them were celebrated last week.

A total of 27 survivors had their stories shared during the Essex-Windsor EMS and Southwest Ontario Regional Base Hospital Program 11th annual “Survivor Day” last Friday at the St. Clair Centre for the Arts. The event celebrated survivors of trauma and out-of-hospital cardiac arrest last year.

Statistics released by the County of Essex states Essex-Windsor EMS paramedics responded to more than 600 calls for patients with no vital signs in 2023. The 27 cases celebrated at Survivor Day last Friday “highlight how the quick, informed actions of bystanders and the medical skills of paramedics can save lives.”

Essex-Windsor EMS Deputy Chief Slawomir Pulcer said there are approximately 35,000 occurrences in Canada where cardiac arrest happens outside the hospital, showing the “fragile nature of life.”

“As we celebrate the survivors, it’s important to recognize the patients we tried to save but were unsuccessful,” he said.

Warden Hilda MacDonald said it was a day to celebrate second chance. She noted the importance of publicly available defibrillators around the community. 

MacDonald said she and other members of Essex County council were privileged to be at the ceremony. 

The 27 survivors are able to “pay it forward,” she added, as they are still around and able to contribute to their families and communities.

“They can still experience and celebrate birthdays and graduations with loved ones,” she added. “The world is a richer place because of the 27 lives that were saved.”

“On Survivor Day we celebrate and share the stories of lives saved by Essex-Windsor EMS paramedics, and other responders and community members who stepped up to make a difference,” said Chief Justin Lammers. “These incidents are traumatic and things happen quickly. Survivor Day is a way of showing how grateful we are to everyone involved, as well as a special time to honour those whose lives were saved.Everyone who helps save a life is a hero, and survivors are our inspiration.”

David Ostrowercha stands with paramedic Jason Renaud at last Friday afternoon’s Survivor Day

Lammers added “we’re making a difference is people’s lives” and said it is important to train as many people as possible so they know what to do if someone is having a heart attack.

The Survivor Day cases involved 72 paramedics (some who took part in more than one event), 35 firefighters, seven ambulance communications officers (one who was involved in multiple events), two police officers and 37 others who helped, including two physicians and a medical staff member who assisted in two separate cases. Four cases involved the use of publicly accessible automated external defibrillators.

During the Survivor Day ceremony, the survivors who attended were presented with rolled up and bottled printouts of their heart rhythms taken by paramedics. Those involved in saving them were presented with Essex-Windsor EMS “save” pins.

A story of one of the survivors is presented in a video during the ceremony. When Jerry Lee remembers the night that strangers and responding paramedics restarted his heart, he thinks of his younger sister Joanne Wong, who collapsed and died in Oct. 2022 while working in Vancouver.

Despite being active, Lee hadn’t been feeling well for years, he said, and received a pacemaker after he had to be rushed to Erie Shores Healthcare in Leamington in May 2023. While playing pool in Windsor Sept. 26, 2023, Lee collapsed and was tended to by off-duty nurses A. Naomi Robertson and Chelsea Hebert and off-duty paramedic Jacob Vincent, who were enjoying trivia night.

They performed CPR and had someone retrieve a defibrillator that was available at another business in the same plaza. Essex-Windsor EMS paramedics Shannon Johnston and Patrick Biczysko arrived and joined in the life-saving effort. They were followed by advanced care paramedic Andrew Peters and paramedic Shaun Rivard.

The story shared by the county continued by stating by the time Johnston, Biczysko and Peters were transporting Lee to Windsor Regional Hospital, he had been revived and was awake. Lee doesn’t remember much and was told his heart was shocked five times. He was able to leave the hospital three weeks later, after an implantable cardiac defibrillator was put in his chest at the London Health Sciences Centre. 

David Ostrowercha was another of the survivors recognized. He had previously been healthy but fell ill and had chest pains after going for a walk with his wife Lori. Though he was reluctant to have 911 called, Lori made the call and then brought in friend Libby French, a nurse practitioner who lived nearby.

Paramedics Jason Renaud and Matthew Titus arrived and determined Ostrowercha was having a heart attack.

Ostrowercha was grateful to be able to not only survive, but to come to an event like “Survivor Day” and thank everyone involved personally for saving his life.

“To me, this day is so important to be able to do that,” he said.

Ostrowercha said people come and go in life, but he was appreciative of everyone’s efforts. He said he doesn’t take the work of paramedics lightly.

“Right now, I have a better appreciation of what it takes to do what they do,” he said.

After having stents inserted in his heart, he was released from the hospital after three days. He said he works at taking care of himself and hopes he never has to use the services of Essex-Windsor EMS in the same way again.

Essex-Windsor EMS connects cardiac arrest survivors with paramedics

By Ron Giofu

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