This Year’s Heroes and Miracles
Astonishing stories of courage and hope
Team Effort On July 5, 2017, Steve and Kim Sawatzky, along with their two kids, decided to cut their camping trip short so they could attend Steve’s annual work picnic. The 44-year-old has served with the Winnipeg Fire Department for 13 years, and this summer’s get-together was held at the Tinkertown amusement park, just outside the city. Along with 500 firefighters and their families, the Sawatzkys enjoyed a sunny morning catching up with friends and eating ice cream.
About an hour after arriving at Tinkertown, Kim went to use the bathroom. When she returned to the picnic table where her family was sitting, she found her seven-year-old daughter, Isabella, crying. Steve was lying on the ground, surrounded by his colleagues. While Kim was away, he’d gone into
cardiac arrest and collapsed. The park’s defibrillator was broken, so for the next 20 minutes, Steve was kept alive by 20 firefighters who took turns performing CPR while they waited for an ambulance to arrive.
“I kept expecting him to sit up and be okay,” Kim said. “As every minute passed, I was more and more scared that he wasn’t going to make it.”
The ambulance technicians who arrived on the scene failed to restart Steve’s heart and rushed him to the emergency room. In total, he was without a pulse for nearly an hour, but no one gave up on him. Shortly after the firefighter arrived at St. Boniface Hospital, 13 kilometres away, medics were finally able to revive him. He was then admitted to the intensive care unit and placed on a ventilator. Nine days later, he had a pacemaker put in.
After seven weeks in hospital, Steve was able to go home to his family. He’s still recovering and has yet to return to work, but Kim says he is getting stronger every day. “If we were still at the campsite when this happened, it likely would have had a very different outcome. That thought still haunts me,” she said. “It was the luckiest of unlucky situations.”
Queen of the Party After Tamara Rowsell was born in 1999, doctors at the James Paton Memorial Hospital in Gander, N.L., told her parents to take her home and love her as much as possible during the short time they’d be able to. She had been diagnosed with Donohue syndrome, an extremely rare condition in which the body’s tissues and organs don’t respond properly to insulin. She wasn’t expected to live past the age of two.
But in May, Tamara, now 18, graduated from Smallwood Academy high school in Gambo, N.L., where she was crowned prom queen. “It was the best day of my life,” she said. “We never stopped dancing for the whole night.”
Tamara’s ability to beat her initially dire diagnosis is thanks to a drug called insulin growth factor (IGF), which she’s been on since 2000. Without it, all of her organs would shut down within a year. She is the oldest living person with Donohue syndrome.
Tamara is also most certainly the only person with Donohue syndrome to become prom queen. “I hoped and prayed that she’d have the perfect prom,” said her mother, Colleen. “And from the time she woke up that morning to the time she went to sleep, she had a smile on her face.”
Through the Ice When County of Grande Prairie firefighters heard that 10 rodeo horses had plunged through the ice on a rural Alberta pond in April of this year, they knew they were about to undertake a daunting job. The situation was critical: three of the animals had already succumbed to six metres of icy water, and the rest were growing exhausted.
Luckily, in recent years county firefighters had trained for exactly this type of rescue and knew what they needed to do. Using chainsaws and mechanical slings, a team of over 35 rescuers from regional fire departments and the RCMP began cutting paths through the ice to haul the horses free.
After a two-hour ordeal, all seven animals were safe. The rescuers, many from volunteer departments, were ecstatic. Since that time, the Grande Prairie team has helped rural fire departments across the country develop their own training to save large animals in danger.
Spotted in the Darkness
During a four-hour drive from her internship program in Springhill, N.S., to visit a friend in Cape Breton last May, Marcie Webb encountered slippery roads. At around 7:30 p.m., the 25-year-old hydroplaned, careened off the road and was knocked unconscious by her steering wheel. When she came to 20 minutes later, her yellow Volkswagen Golf was in Bras d’Or
Lake, 15 metres from the road. The water was up to her ankles and was coming in through the doors as she scrambled to find her phone and glasses, which had flown off in the crash. After a few moments of frantic searching, she gave up and climbed out of the driver’s seat into water close to 4 C.
It was pouring rain, the sun had set, and she saw no other cars on the road. Webb has mobility issues that require her to use a walker, which she managed to retrieve from the back seat. As she surveyed the distance to the shore and the four-metre hill leading up to the highway, she started to panic. But then she heard a man’s voice calling to her from land: “Stay where you are. I’m coming to get you.”
It was volunteer firefighter Dan MacNeil, who had been driving by with his wife when he noticed dim headlights reflecting on the water. He stopped the car, jumped out and waded into the lake. When he reached Webb, he picked her up and carried her over his shoulder to safety.
“I actually got to see how far down it was [from the road], and it’s a miracle that Dan was able to see my headlights,” said Webb. “If it weren’t for him, I don’t know how I would have made it.”
From the Ashes
Last summer, a blaze ripped through Loreena Hrechka’s apartment in
downtown Flin Flon, Man. Coming home to find the inferno, she turned to a firefighter in horror. “My babies are in there!” she cried. Her two pet turtles, five-year-old Leonardo and eight-year-old April O’Neil, were trapped inside the flaming building.
But by that time, it was too late— the structure was unsound and firefighters couldn’t save them. The fire burned for 11 hours, destroying all four apartment units. The next day, the building was demolished—but hours later, Hrechka received a text from her neighbour. “Come here now,” it said.
Hrechka, who was staying at a nearby hotel, rushed to her neighbour’s yard. There, inside a bucket, she spotted a familiar shell: it was Leonardo. Somehow, the resilient reptile had crawled out of the smoking debris. He was caked with soot but otherwise unharmed.
“To have him back gave me hope,” Hrechka says. “My possessions can be replaced, and everything will be okay.”
On the morning of December 11, 2016, CN conductor Brad Slater found a surprise stowaway clinging to the bottom of his train’s engine: a frostbitten, malnourished cat. The freight train had just completed a 12-hour run from Melville, Sask., to Wainwright, Alta., with temperatures plunging to -60 C. According to Slater,
GOOD LUCK—AND THE EFFORTS OF HIS COLLEAGUES— SAVED THE LIFE OF WINNIPEG FIREFIGHTER
Prom queen Tamara
Rowsell, in May.
“We were very proud,” County
of Grande Prairie fire chief Trevor Grant says of the rescue.