Survivor Day, more than just a meet and greet

14 Aug Survivor Day, more than just a meet and greet

On June 1, 2018, Essex Windsor EMS (EWEMS) hosted their 8th Annual Survivor Day. We are proud of this event and it continues to grow and foster into a larger and fuller afternoon each subsequent year. Prior to 2010, EWEMS did have survivor “connections”, in which a survivor would contact the service and ask to meet those paramedics that had “saved” their life. This connection would be arranged by a Professional Standards Captain, having the crew attend a base, meet the survivor and a family member, exchange hugs, maybe a gift, take a picture and pleasantries. This meeting was very emotional for the survivor and family members and the paramedics appreciated the time and ability to see the progress of “their” survivor. The meeting was not formalized and therefore, for the majority, went unnoticed by the rest of the service, the public and the officials of the County of Essex.

Under the guidance and organization of Captain Cathie Hedges, Survivor Day was officially born in 2010 with a formal planned gathering. Throughout all years sudden and traumatic cardiac arrests are tracked and monitored. Communication between the local hospitals and EWEMS continue and once the patient is discharged to home, a reach out is made by EWEMS to the patient or families. The reach out explains survivor day, the premise behind it, the connection of the paramedics with the patient and family and the importance of both parties to meet, mingle and celebrate the great achievement. In 2010 EWEMS logged 25 saves, with a save defined as someone who suffered sudden or traumatic cardiac arrest and who is discharged from hospital neurologically intact. We scheduled an afternoon and approximately 10 survivors and their families attended along with some of the attending paramedics. The ceremony consisted of a brief story of the response, comments from the survivor, certificates delivered to the paramedics from base hospital and uniform pins from EWEMS. In total, the 2010 attendance reflects about 30 people. At the time, we thought this was phenomenal.

Over the years, Survivor Day grew in survivors, paramedics attending and we began to include other first responders, ambulance communication officers, paramedic students, bystanders and public access defibrillator operators. In 2013, we eventually outgrew the Essex Civic Centre for hosting the event as capacity was capped at approximately 100 attendees. Luckily, an excellent relationship with St. Clair College allowed us use of the Skyline Room at St. Clair Centre of the Arts. This venue continues to be the host site and provides an excellent view of the Detroit River skyline with the hospitality students preparing and providing the refreshments and pastries. As St. Clair College is the host, we also see it fitting that the first and second year paramedic students are involved in the celebration. These future paramedics highlight the equipment and vehicles of EWEMS, escort the survivors to their seats and most importantly, witness the satisfaction and outcomes of their future career. One can only imagine how the attendance began to grow in 2013 and continues to grow to this date.

In reflection, there have been some very emotional and inspirational stories come from survivor day. These outcomes also fostered new relationships with other partner organizations that continue to attend, whether involved in a save or not. One year we highlighted a 12 year old boy who had suffered a traumatic cardiac arrest at a grade school. With the fast action of teachers and faculty, the verbal instruction of the ambulance communications officers, attendance of the fire tiered response, the efficient actions of the paramedics, the determined work of the emergency department and continuing care of the ICU, this young adult continues to live a fruitful and respectful life today. It was this event that Survivor Day again to highlight the teamwork of emergency services, hospitals, ICU, CCU, Cath Lab and other facilities.  As we all know, it takes a village to raise a child and in the case of survivors, that village is a small city. During one event we had a survivor meet all 20 people who assisted in their survival. This was one of the most emotional and inspirational moments in Survivor Day history. EWEMS feels that this is important to highlight everyone involved not secluded to just the paramedics.

The ceremony has evolved as well over the years. EWEMS first prepared and gave out certificates and pins to the paramedics for each save. EWEMS collaborated with Southwest Ontario Regional Base Hospital Group so we could deliver both service and BH pins at the same time. The certificates are signed by both the Chief and local medical director. EWEMS also recognized those that have utilized CPR and/or Public Access Defibrillators in the course of a save. For corporations, such as auto plants or the Casino, a wall plaque and certificates are presented to the facility and the employees. We have seen multiple organizations that have saved their colleagues across the region. This type of recognition has also been the catalyst for private donors or organizations to purchase defibrillators for the community, such as churches, community centre or place of employment. From a tragic event, a good thing is born.

The 2018 Survivor Day recognized 46 saves for 2017 and this amount is the highest yet. The attendance was the largest ever, with approximately 250 people attending to witness this great day. I have to note that it is now a day event, as no longer can we accomplish the celebration in just a couple of hours.  The preparation for such a day takes months in planning and organization. Media agencies from across the region attend to capture every heartwarming story. There were many heartwarming stories. From the save on Pelee Island, encompassed multiple pulse returns and returning arrests to the 46 year old gentlemen, father of two who collapsed while on a gym treadmill. Each one has their own story and own reflection of what happened or what they missed that day. To see an elderly gentleman give a bear hug to a young paramedic is emotional and tearful for even the most strong minded. To see a young son and daughter walk to the front of the room and accompany their father as he meets the paramedics and communicators  who attended him that day puts what EMS is all about into perspective. To put it simply, EWEMS Kleenex budget is taxed each survivor day.

Survivor Day is one of the most important days of the year for EWEMS. It allows for those patients who suffered a tragic event and survived to connect, meet, talk to and thank those responders who attended to them. It allows those paramedics to witness, meet, connect and embrace those patients who they strive to succeed with every day. It allows the service to promote the importance of early recognition of sudden cardiac arrest, CPR, defibrillation and 911 activation. The public has become well aware of these important tools through publication of this event and anecdotally, the save rate is reflective of this.

From humble beginnings, we have made Survivor Day a day of memories! I encourage any service to plan and host a Survivor Day.

Bruce Krauter,

Chief, Essex Windsor EMS