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Life-saving bravery of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians recognized


Saluting ordinary people who became extraordinary heroes

While it’s entertaining to watch in awe the fictional heroes who appear on large movie screens, or to cheer for your sports heroes in the NHL or NBA, sometimes it’s just nice to pause and recognize the real-life heroes who may live in your community, or just down the street.

In fact, your own hero could be a member of your family or a stranger who happened to be walking by at the moment you were in distress.

Eight of these heroes were recognized Thursday when St. John Ambulance presented its life-saving awards during a ceremony at the Anglican Cathedral in St. John’s.

These heroes are Newfoundlanders and Labradorians who displayed acts of bravery when they encountered sudden emergencies while merely going about their daily lives.

Colleen O’Reilly had dropped by the Marconi Cafe at the Johnson GEO Centre in St. John’s around lunchtime on July 13, 2016 to say hello to the staff, as the cafe is run by the same company she works for, Spirit of Newfoundland.

A young boy who was having lunch there with his aunt started to choke.

“The next thing his aunt was singing out, ‘He’s choking, he’s choking,’ so I ran over to him,” O’Reilly said. “He wasn’t breathing and was holding his chest, and I pulled him up and gave him three or four thrusts and with that two pieces of watermelon came out. He then started to cry and embraced his aunt.

“We all then kind of sat down trembling ourselves, and breathed a sigh of relief.”

O’Reilly said the gravity of the situation soon struck her. She began to throw up and had to drink a lot of water.

“I possibly couldn’t remember the whole incident. I was pretty shaken up,” she said. “To be recognized for this is very humbling, but it was one of those things you don’t think about, you just do it.”

O’Reilly said she was interested in first-aid training since she was a member of the Brownies in her younger years. All her life, she noted, when the opportunity came to take a CPR course, she took it. It was something instilled in her as part of growing up in a family that was taught to take care of others, and to jump in to help people in distress.

“It is something you learn your whole life, but it’s not something you think you are going to use someday,” she said. “It was just a reaction, and all your years of training — when you didn’t think you were paying attention or had been listening — it is all there in front of you. So I’d advise anyone to get CPR training.”

About 4:30 p.m. on Nov. 25, 2017, a meeting at the Royal Canadian Legion in Mount Pearl had just ended. What had been a normal cold, fall day with daylight starting to fade took a tragic turn for Legion member Albert (Butch) Pearcey when he decided to go to his car to get clothes so he could change out of his uniform.

As Pearcey left the building on his way to the parking lot, he suddenly collapsed.

Walter Barnes was sitting in his car nearby and rushed to Pearcey’s side. He tried to wake Pearcey, but couldn’t. Barnes then ran into the building for help.

Dean Critch, Heather Dunne and Donald Fizzard — all whom had first-aid training — rushed out to Pearcey and worked together to perform CPR on him until emergency medical attendants arrived.

It was later determined in hospital that Pearcey had suffered a heart attack and would likely not have survived without the efforts of those who quickly came to his aid.

“To see Butch on the ground, it was pretty rough,” Critch said. “I was the first one to get to him, so I started to try to revive him and tried to wake him forcefully, but he didn’t come around, so we started doing CPR, and he’s here.”

Pearcey attended the ceremony Thursday with his fellow legionaires and thanked them once again.

“I’d like to thank them for stepping up and doing what they done,” he said. “I definitely wouldn’t be here today without them.”

What was evident at Thursday’s event was that it is not only in public places that emergency situations can happen.

Clarence Russell of Coley’s Point was in the other room when his wife and their 11-year-old grandson were eating supper in the comfort of their home.

The day was Oct. 10, 2017.

It wasn’t long into the meal that the grandson started to choke and could not breathe. His lips started to turn blue.

Startled, his wife called frantically for Russell, who ran in from the other room. He grabbed his grandson and started giving him back blows that dislodged the food blocking his throat, and the boy began to breathe normally again.

The use of first aid saved his grandson’s life.

O’Reilly, Critch, Dunne, Fizzard and Russell — along with Mike Perry, Trudy Kearney and Tyler Francis — received life-saving awards.

Perry, who didn’t attend Thursday’s event, had teamed with others and performed CPR on a woman in Grand Falls-Windsor who had lost consciousness and stopped breathing during a snowstorm in 2017, thus saving her life.

Kearney and Francis worked with others and used CPR to save someone’s life in Corner Brook in 2016. In that case a man was travelling to work when he suffered a major heart attack and crashed his van into three parked cars. Kearney and Francis worked with others to pull the man from his vehicle and perform CPR that saved his life.

Barnes, for his part in helping Pearcey at the Legion in Mount Pearl that day, was presented with a certificate of commendation.

Adam Manning also received a certificate of commendation for his efforts in treating injured members of an ocean racing sailing vessel in July 2016 when the vessel’s five-member crew were injured after the vessel capsized in heavy seas.

Lt.-Gov. Judy Foote presented the awards.

Other presentations on Thursday included member promotions within the Order of St. John.

Scott Thistle was promoted to commander, while David Norris and Zack Parrell were invested as serving members. Medals for years of service were presented to Susan Bishop and Noreen Flynn.

A priory vote of thanks was given to Jean Ryan Moores, and provincial chair’s commendations were presented to Tim Colbourne and Lacey Fancy — all for their work with therapy dog programs.

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