Shelly Greenlaw (centre) shares a moment with the people who saved her life – Vernon Recreation Centre staff members Norlene Keller (from left)

Shelly Greenlaw (centre) shares a moment with the people who saved her life – Vernon Recreation Centre staff members Norlene Keller (from left)

Vital link brings woman back to life

An on-site defibrilator and the work of four guardian angels saved a Manitoba woman whose heart stopped at the Vernon Recreation Centre...

Upstairs in the weight room at the Vernon Recreation Centre one Tuesday afternoon in January, Killarney, Man. visitor Shelly Greenlaw began running on a treadmill.

Downstairs, Greenlaw’s brother and his two kids were in the swimming pool, and rec centre staff members Gary Lefebvre and Norlene Keller had begun a meeting with recreation services manager Doug Ross.

Greenlaw planned to run 30 minutes on the treadmill. Whether there were six minutes or nine minutes left on the machine, Greenlaw doesn’t remember. All she knows is that everything all of a sudden went snowy, like a non-working television, then black.

At 36, Greenlaw’s heart had stopped.

“We were sitting in Doug’s office for an aquatic staff meeting when someone came to the front desk to report a woman was having a seizure in the weight room,” said Lefebvre. “Norlene went straight to the weight room and I went to the first aid room to grab the AED (Automated External Defibrilator) and first aid kit, and met them in the weight room.”

Greenlaw had become wedged between the treadmills, so the machines were moved and she was then pulled into open space, where Keller began assessing if Greenlaw was breathing (she wasn’t).

Lefebvre started compressions on Greenlaw and Keller activated the AED. Off-duty lifeguard Laura Hitchen – who, exactly three weeks earlier, had saved a toddler from choking on a coin at the pool – came in and was ready to assist.

“From there, we used the AED and gave her one shock,” said Lefebvre. “Two minutes later the AED was doing analysis and it said she didn’t need a shock. We saw signs of life in Shelly. She started fighting the mask as we were trying to give her breaths. She was coming back to life.”

For Lefebvre, Keller and Hitchen, having Greenlaw ask for a glass of water as she was being taken away by paramedics allowed them a sense of collective comfort.

“To hear her talk was a weight off the shoulders,” said Lefebvre. “You train to do something for 18 years and to finally do it and be a success the first time, it was just overwhelming relief.”

On Wednesday, the B.C. Ambulance Service presented its Vital Link Award to Lefebvre, Keller, Hitchen and rec centre staff member Rae Kievit, who made the 911 call that afternoon.

“Those vital seconds where the rec centre staff responded to this patient were what made the difference that day,” said Vernon paramedic Cathy Hooper, the first medical personnel on the scene that afternoon, and who was in attendance on Wednesday.

Also on hand was Greenlaw, who came from Manitoba just for the ceremony.

“This is just great that they’re honouring them and recognizing their work,” said Greenlaw, joined at the presentation by her brother and sister-in-law. “I know it’s their job, but they saved me. They saved a mom, aunt, sister and wife and I appreciate that.”

It was the second time Greenlaw had a chance to meet face-to-face with her rescuers. The first was after she returned to Vernon from hospital in Victoria in February.

“I’m very, very thankful. If it weren’t for their quick response, I probably wouldn’t be here,” said Greenlaw, who teared up during the awards presentation. “Thank you just isn’t enough words.”

Greenlaw, who along with her husband and three kids would love to move to Vernon, still doesn’t know why she collapsed on Jan. 24.

There were no warning signs and she felt fine as she started running. All the testing she’s had since hasn’t provided any answers.

She is in the middle of trying to get a test for Long Q-T Syndrome, a disorder of the heart’s electrical system that can happen in otherwise healthy people.

As a result of the collapse, Greenlaw now has her own implanted cardiac defibrilator.

Greenlaw believes the AED saved her life, and is grateful the rec centre was equipped with such a device.

There are two AEDs at the complex – the other is at the Priest Valley Arena and Gymnasium – and Lefebvre said he’d like to see the device at a couple of outdoor pools in Greater Vernon.