On her knees beside her husband, Diana Stephen pumps his chest as she administers CPR during the life-changing moments that saved his life back in 2015.
Diana had only a vague recollection of how to perform CPR from Girl Guides more than 50 years ago, but she followed instructions from a 911 emergency dispatcher as she knelt by her husband in the kitchen that morning.
“It was the 911 operator who talked me through it,” Diana said, recalling her somewhat frantic feelings that morning.
“As your doing it, of course it’s a life threatening thing, it was very emotional… quite scary,” she said.
“But he’s with me now,” she concluded, and that’s the crux of it for her and her husband Barrie, who have now been married for 56 years.
The most amazing part of the story is that Barrie also saved Diana’s life only four years prior.
“It sounds like one of those fairytale stories,” acknowledged Diana. “It doesn’t really seem real… he saved my life and I had to pay him back by saving his,” she laughed.
The scenario was similar, but Barrie called on his Canadian military training to guide him through the CPR procedure.
It was in August 2011, and he woke up during the night to find Diana struggling to breath.
Pulling her to the floor, he gave her CPR and dialed 911 after he’d stimulated her breathing.
Diana was rushed to Mills Memorial Hospital in Terrace, and then to Vancouver General Hospital where she received surgery and was stabilized.
Now, just a few weeks ago, the couple was honoured for their quick life-saving actions, receiving two separate Vital Link Awards from the BC Ambulance.
The awards were given at a small informal ceremony at the Terrace ambulance station Dec. 27, 2017.
For Diana, the recognition matters little, but the chance to meet the paramedic who helped her husband in 2015 was the important part.
“I actually got to meet the paramedic that came to the house and give him a hug,” she said. “I think was the best part of the whole thing — to actually put a face to somebody who had helped me through it.”
And though the award is now framed and hanging in their home, Diana says it’s not too significant for them.
“We’ve got each other and that’s all we care about,” she said. “I think [the award] means more to others than it does to us.”
BC Ambulance regional manager Mike Sorensen said Barrie and Diana’s story is incredibly rare, with the pair having both saved each other’s lives.
“I’ve never heard of that occurring before,” he said. “The likelihood of surviving a cardiac event is low enough as it is, so to have two people save each other’s lives in this event is… I don’t even think I have words to describe it, it’s so remote.”
Approximately 25 Vital Link awards are given out by BC Ambulance every year to bystanders and paramedics who administer CPR to a person in cardiac arrest.
The move can be both crucial and life-saving, said Sorensen, noting that it can make all the difference for someone to give CPR while waiting for paramedics.
“For every minute that passes (without CPR), you have a ten per cent decrease in chances of survival,” he said. “The quicker CPR is administered… the greater the chances of survival…. It increases their chances exponentially.”
Sorensen said it was an honour to present Barrie and Diana with Vital Link awards, noting that situations like these are often the reason paramedics do what they do.
“It’s very exciting for us to be able to do these type of things,” he said. “This is one of the main reasons we do these type of jobs… to see these type of scenarios come to fruition.
“It’s just an honour for me.”