Woman meets with lifesaving paramedics

By Darren Lum

Sept. 20 2016

Besides playing bridge at the Parklane Apartments on July 27 there’s not much Haliburton’s Susan Pethick remembers the moment before she died.

Much of the time after is a blur but the retired occupational nurse later learned she had two angels to make sure she wasn’t going to leave her five grandchildren that day.

This past week Pethick made a point to thank her angels two local part-time paramedics Jordan Whelan and Jim Miska on Tuesday Sept. 13 at the Haliburton base.

Getting to “close the loop” meeting the person they saved is a rare and satisfying experience for paramedics.

Seeing them for the first time since that fateful day Pethick immediately hugged them in turn first Whelan and then Miska surrounded by colleagues and family.

“I just wanted to come and say thank you” she said. “I spoke briefly to the doctor and said ‘thank you’ to him because I know what the odds are … but God wasn’t ready for me yet. I didn’t see flames so there you go.”

After a hearty laugh shared by the paramedics and others in the room she continued: “So I had this really great line that I was going to say: First of all you wouldn’t recognize my face because you were so busy cutting my clothes off and I thank you for that.”

Recalling that day Pethick just remembers playing cards.

“I had two hands to go when (apparently because this is where it’s all gone) I said ‘I don’t feel well’ and turned grey and that was it” she said. “I died.”

The two paramedics were in the area and arrived on the scene in three minutes initially responding to what they were told was a seizure. They administered cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and used a defibrillator to stop the heart and reset it for a normal rhythm when they learned she had cardiac fibrillation – when a heart’s normal rhythm is disrupted and cannot pump blood throughout the body so the heart is like a “quivering bowl of jello.”

County paramedic chief Craig Jones was proud of his paramedics and welcomed this opportunity to have their efforts recognized.

“It’s a great moment for the paramedics. As a paramedic myself I’ve had two saves in my career [with follow-up from those saved] and I will always remember those two people coming back and saying thank you” he said.

Before the meeting Pethick met with Jones and discussed the rarity of coming back from cardiac arrest particularly if a person is not given medical attention quickly.

According to the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada less than five per cent of Canadians survive a cardiac arrest outside a hospital. Chances of survival drop up to 10 per cent every minute defibrillation is delayed during cardiac arrest and beyond 10 minutes resuscitation is rarely successful.

Pethick said her family is so grateful and friends are surprised she came close to dying.

“Nobody can believe this would happen to me” she said.

The grandmother of five is the epitome of an active senior in mind and body. She regularly golfs curls and walks and has a  verve for life.

Although her doctor has discouraged her from curling due to the strenuous nature of sweeping she really hasn’t missed a beat since being released from the hospital in Peterborough recently.

When Whelan suggested she take it easy it was met with joking resistance.

“Life’s too short to take it easy” she said. “Living life every day because you never know.”

In fact she had just finished playing golf before meeting with the two young men.

Pethick wishes there were more defibrillators in the community. Jones said there are 38 machines in the county all in public buildings.

The nurse with more than 45 years of experience said she wants more people to know CPR which she taught for companies such as Suncor and GE Company at the end of her career.

She commended the skill of the paramedics who not only saved her life but did it without breaking any of her ribs which occurs with CPR.

The men brought their wives and families to the base.

Whelan asked his wife Jennifer to come with eight-day-old baby daughter Rielle while his partner for this life saving action Miska invited wife Amy and children Bo 6 and older sister Ellie 7 to come.

“It’s incredible pretty incredible. It reaffirms why you do the job right? There are a lot of not so nice days with the job. This is one of those nice days” Whelan said.

Whelan said he has approximately five saves and this is the first follow-up.

“It’s a special opportunity a special moment. You never know. Could have aspiring medics or something” Miska said looking down at his son and daughter standing at his feet.

As customary in the industry Jones presented all three with golden lightning bolt pins signifying the life saved from using the defibrillator machine. The pair said they would wear the pins on their uniforms.

“As Jordan said we don’t get it often. When we do it’s a nice special place in our heart that they’ll always remember” Jones said.