Canada 2017·What's Your Story

How the kindness of strangers along Vancouver's seawall saved my husband's life

“I was in an ambulance before I realized that I didn't know anyone who had helped.”

“I was in an ambulance before I realized that I didn't know anyone who had helped.”

Eileen and Bob Murray on Vancouver's beautiful seawall. (Eileen Murray)

In November, 2015, while out on Vancouver's seawall, Bob Murray suffered a heart attack. His wife, Eileen, never before got to thank all who helped him survive that day.

Throughout 2017, we're asking Canadians, "What's your story?" Murray shares hers.

A Canadian microcosm

My husband Bob and I moved to Vancouver in 2007. We live on the edge of the seawall.  Walking there had become our favourite pastime. The calm, magnificent scenery is ever changing. The bay, the mountains covered in mists, the brilliant colours of the sky — awe instilling beauty.

On the seawall, people from everywhere and all walks of life enjoy the beauty — chatting with friends, running, walking, cycling or skateboarding at any time of the day and in every season of the year. The seawall gives you the feeling that you are part of a microcosm mirroring the world.

In Vancouver, we are blessed with beauty. However, sometimes it takes something horrific to remind us that greatness is found not in the beautiful vistas, but in our imperfect selves.

Bob is diabetic and has over the years developed many of the complications related to his disease. The most recent problem was heart disease requiring bypass surgery. Exercise is part of the treatment so we continued our daily walks while waiting for surgery.

A day to remember

On November 2, 2015, we were sitting on a bench resting before walking back home. I suddenly noticed that Bob was silent. I turned and saw that his eyes were closed. He did not respond to my frantic calls. I tried desperately to dial 911 on my cell but couldn't make it work.

The park bench on Vancouver's seawall where Bob Murray suffered a heart attack. (Eilieen Murray)

A young man and woman heard me, stopped and asked if they could help. I said, "Yes, please dial 911." They helped me lay Bob down. She tipped his head back by rolling up her coat and putting it under his neck. The 911 operator asked us to check to see if he was breathing. He had stopped.

At that moment, I turned around and saw a very tall, well-built athletic looking young man walking up. He had been cycling by. He stopped when he saw the people clustered around the bench. He looked at my ashen face and said, "I am a physician, can I help?"

Sometimes it takes something horrific to remind us that greatness is found not in the beautiful vistas, but in our imperfect selves.

It happens that I, too, am a physician. But under such intensely personal circumstances, my medical training, and my forty years of experience as a doctor seemed to count for very little. All I could say was, "Yes."  His name, as we discovered later, was Dr. Omar Sharif.

He had his fingers on Bob's pulse when Bob's heart stopped beating. He immediately gave Bob two deep rescue breaths.  He gave everyone a job.  He had someone hold a flashlight. Someone else kept track of the time until the ambulance arrived.  He sent others to guide the ambulance. I held Bob's wrist. I could feel the pulses as Dr. Sharif started chest compressions at 100 per minute. He continued until the ambulance arrived almost 15 minutes later. The first responders immediately gave Bob oxygen and restarted his heart.

The Murrays got to thank Dr. Sharif in person. (Eileen Murray)

I was in an ambulance before I realized that I didn't know anyone who had helped. It was cold. The young woman who gave Bob her coat had stood there without it. Dr. Sharif did compressions for the entire time. It's very hard work. It's usual to trade off every two minutes. He did not stop. 

Heroes, everyone! How could I thank them all?

This is my thank you

Bob survived. He had emergency surgery the next day and, after a long and difficult 8-month recovery, finally came home.

We didn't meet Dr. Sharif until eight months after that day in November. It was wonderful to thank him in person.

To all the rest who stopped and helped, especially the young couple who stopped first, we owe a huge debt of gratitude. This is my thank you to them. This is my Canada!

What's your story?
What defines Canada for you? Is there a time that you were proud to be Canadian, or perhaps a time you felt disappointed?  Is there a place, person, or event in your life that sums up what being Canadian is to you? Email us your story at 2017@cbc.ca.

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