HomeMedicine By SpecialtyCardiologyVolunteering in the moment

Volunteering in the moment

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The morning of May 26, 2012, seemed like a typical one for Victoria, B.C. commuter Nicole Smart. She was on her way to her job in the records department at Victoria General Hospital. What happened next wasn’t part of her work, nor something she had anticipated doing. While driving to work, Nicole noticed the car behind her on the Highway 1 off-ramp wasn’t moving on the green light. At the same moment, area resident Joyce Hodd saw the same driver who was in the car in front of her slide sideways in his seat. The two women quickly moved to the patient’s car and noticed Douglas Willoughby was experiencing a sudden cardiac arrest. They were able to take him from the car and move him to the side of the road where Nicole immediately started Cardio Pulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) while BC Ambulance Service (BCAS) paramedics were enroute.

Through an amazing humanitarian effort, Douglas received CPR within minutes of experiencing a sudden cardiac arrest, was successfully defibrillated and transported by paramedics and has since made a full recovery. It is only through the selfless and caring actions of Nicole and Joyce, that Douglas was able to receive assistance and CPR right away. Though it was an unplanned act, Nicole and Joyce volunteered to do what was needed when it mattered most and at the core of their actions, was the desire to help someone else. These are the traits that define the volunteer spirit.

BC Ambulance Service paramedics aim to provide timely, high quality emergency medical care for patients throughout the province. Through their experience with sudden cardiac arrest patients and inspired by the impact of volunteer or bystander CPR, BCAS created a community awards program whereby paramedics can recognize the life-saving efforts of volunteers and simultaneously raise awareness about the importance of learning CPR.

The BCAS Community Awards program runs outside of the regular scope of paramedic work, but many BCAS paramedics volunteer extra time to highlight the lifesaving efforts of members of the public and in turn become informal spokespeople advocating for the public to learn CPR.

“Simply put, we know CPR saves lives,” says advance care paramedic Jon Deakin who attended the call involving Douglas Willoughby. “And the Vital Link awards reflect the literal connection Joyce and Nicole played in saving Douglas’ life. If someone reads this story in the local paper and is moved to take a first aid course, we’ve made an even greater impact in our community.”

From paramedics’ point of view, volunteering extra time to submit a nomination, help organize the award presentation and attend the event, is a worthwhile use of their time to promote CPR. They are often happy to make themselves available outside of work hours, which is a strong testament to their commitment to encourage bystanders to learn CPR and by extension, helping future cardiac arrest patients have better survival outcomes.

The statistics are clear:  40,000 Canadians experience sudden cardiac arrest every year – and most die before paramedics can reach them. As with many facets of volunteer work, it is the personal connection to the issue that can often make the greatest impact. In order to improve the patient survival rates, BC Ambulance Service paramedics aim to highlight the humanitarian efforts of volunteers during a sudden cardiac arrest in an effort to motivate others to learn CPR and be trained to save another’s life, should they be needed.

At a later date, Joyce and Nicole were honoured by BC Ambulance Service for their voluntary role in saving Douglas’ life through the BCAS awards program and were reunited with Douglas and Jon. For everyone who attended the informal ceremony, the impact of the situation was clear, early recognition and CPR saved Douglas’ life and those key pieces were achieved by two volunteers who saw a need and fulfilled it.

“I was on my way to work but knew I had to stop and help. I was surprised by the award and the recognition. I hope anyone would do the same for me, my husband or my children,” said Nicole Smart. She didn’t hesitate to use her CPR training which she completed almost 10 years ago.

On average, BCAS presents over 50 awards to members of the public each year who voluntarily come to the aid of another during a medical emergency. The BCAS Community Awards are broken into two categories to recognize the different types of assistance bystanders can provide. The Vital Link Award is given to honour the skilful actions of one or more bystanders at a cardiac arrest emergency. Similarly, the Good Samaritan Award commends the actions of a person or group of people who put their own needs on hold to help others during a medical emergency.

BCAS paramedics also volunteer with two other important programs that support the public in learning CPR. The BC Public Access to Defibrillation (PAD) Program is a partnership with the Heart and Stroke Foundation – B.C. & Yukon, the Province of B.C. and BC Ambulance Service, which places Automated External Defibrillators in public facilities and provides CPR training and information on how to use an AED. Similarly, the High School CPR Program is a partnership with the Advanced Coronary Treatment (ACT) Foundation, BCAS and CUPE 873 to ensure that all grade nine and ten students are taught CPR as part of their regular curriculum.

While volunteer work takes many forms, the spirit of service in which it is undertaken runs throughout – volunteers see a need and want to fix it, make it better, to help. Doing CPR and coming to the aid of a person in medical distress is not conventionally considered volunteer work, but often epitomizes the volunteer spirit.


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