'It's emotional, to say the least': Toronto man meets paramedics who saved his life

Feb. 14 is now officially 'Safe City Day,' a time for residents to learn CPR and the proper use of a defibrillator. Heart attack survivor John Turco was at City Hall to speak about the importance of these procedures, and how they saved his life.

The meeting was part of 'Safe City Day,' which encourages residents to learn life-saving procedures

John Turco, flanked by two of the paramedics who responded to his medical call, says he's lucky to be alive. (Greg Ross/CBC News)

For the first time since his heart attack nearly three months ago, John Turco found himself surrounded by the people who played a role in saving his life. The 51-year-old got choked up as he shook their hands.

"It's emotional, to say the least," Turco said.

Turco was at city hall Wednesday as Mayor John Tory officially dubbed Feb. 14 "Safe City Day." Toronto Paramedic Services operate a program called Safe City, which trains thousands of Torontonians every year in CPR and the proper use of a defibrillator.

John Turco talks to the media at City Hall, as the city celebrates is first 'Safe City Day.' Toronto Paramedic Services' Safe City program trains more than 7,500 Toronto residents a year in CPR and AED. (Greg Ross/CBC News)

Turco said he may not be alive today if he wasn't surrounded by friends with this training back on Nov. 23.

He was playing pickup basketball at Neil McNeil High School, where he's also a phys ed teacher. Turco said he had already been playing for more than an hour when a friend asked if he wanted to play one more game.

"I said, 'Yeah sure, I'm good.'"

That's the last thing Turco remembers.

Gerald Rozario played on Turco's team that day. He said there were no signs of any trouble early in the game.

In fact, Rozario said Turco had just scored a basket and was backpedaling towards the defensive end of the court when he collapsed.

"I remember from my peripheral him just falling straight back, and I remember his head bouncing off the ground," Rozario said.

Without hesitation, Rozario said he yelled out for someone to call 911 and then asked another player to run and get the defibrillator.  

John Turco poses with the men who helped save his life. (From left to right, Bayete Smith, John Turco, Gerald Rozario and Dave Radcliffe) (Greg Ross/CBC News)

Rozario and two other men immediately began to administer CPR to Turco. It was something Rozario had taken a course in, but he'd never had to do it in a real life situation.

When they were unable to get a pulse, they decided to go a step further.

"We cut his shirt and gave him the defibrillator," Rozario said.

These paramedics helped save Turco's life three months ago, after his friends administered life-saving procedures. The chance of surviving a cardiac arrest doubles when CPR is used in combination with an automated external defibrillator (AED) in the first few minutes of the cardiac arrest. (Greg Ross/CBC News)

Not long after that emergency response crews arrived. Steven Deans was the first paramedic to get to Turco.

"I could see his chest moving up and down from across the gym floor," Deans said. "Excellent sign, that makes my heart rate drop."

Paramedic Chris Miller says by the time he got there, everything was under control thanks to Turco's fast-acting friends.

"This is the first experience for me, seeing bystanders coming together like that," Miller said.

By the time they got Turco into the ambulance he was conscious and speaking. Deans said he even started cracking jokes.

"He was saying, 'Aw man, my wife's going to kill me, she hates when I play basketball.'"

It turns out, it's not his wife he had to worry about.

"Well, the cardiologist won't let me play," Turco said.

He hopes to return to the court as soon as he's cleared by his doctors.