Guelph family thanks paramedics who helped save dad's life

John Annis says he wouldn't be alive today if not for a quick-thinking passersby and paramedics who helped him when he went into cardiac arrest during a bike trip this past January.

'I hope they realize that they’re really making a difference in people’s lives': Angela Annis

John Annis, centre, met with the Guelph-Wellington paramedics who saved his life in January (from left) Adele Zantinge, Mike Patterson, Grace Perry, Heather Eimers and Kate Robinson. Not pictured is Chris Baum, who was also at the scene. (Kate Bueckert/CBC)

John Annis says food tastes a little better these days.

That's because earlier this year, he had a health scare that could have ended his life, but thanks to the kindness of strangers, he is alive and celebrating life with his family every day.

On Jan. 28, he and his friend, Paul Brousseau, went on a cycling trip starting at Annis's home in Guelph's south end. The plan was to go to Hespeler in Cambridge, but they only got one kilometre into their trip when Annis said he knew something was wrong.

"I started to feel light-headed and really dizzy," he said.

He remembers pulling over and sitting down on the side of the road.

"That's not what happened, I guess. I collapsed on my bike and crashed on the side of the road," he said.

Brousseau thought Annis was having a seizure because he was mumbling and twitching.

"If Paul had not been with me, and had he not been as calm and collected as he was in such a stressful and urgent situation, I wouldn't be here today," Annis said.

As they were on the side of the road, Nicole Cross, who works as a nurse at Sunnybrook Hospital in Toronto, drove by, got out of her car and offered to help while her dad called paramedics.

Cross started by unclipping him from his bike.

"I think that's when I went into cardiac arrest, from what I understand," Annis said. "So, literally within seconds of going into cardiac arrest, I had this super trained nurse on me doing CPR, which was great."

At the same time, Alex Post of Good Neighbourhood Medical, a Guelph program that has people put signs up in the window of their home indicating they can help with first aid in the case of an emergency, just happened to be driving by  and had a bag-valve mask kit he put on Annis.

It meant Annis was getting blood and oxygen right away. When paramedics arrived, they use a defibrillator on him to get his pulse back, then took him to Guelph General Hospital.

He was later transferred to St. Mary's General Hospital in Kitchener where cardiac experts determined he had a blockage and a stent was inserted into an artery.

John Annis of Guelph with his family (from left) daughter Emily, wife Angela and daughter Ella. (Kate Bueckert/CBC)

'We think about them every day'

On Friday, ahead of National Paramedic Services Week, Annis and his family went to see the paramedics who helped him that day to say thank you. The family brought cookies, fruit and hugs for those who were called to the scene.

"I wouldn't be here, and our family wouldn't be here together today, if it wasn't for them. That's it. They literally have given me the gift of my life back. What could there be a better reason to say thank you for in the world?" said Annis.

Annis' wife, Angela, said those who stopped and the paramedics who rushed to help her husband gave the family the gift of time together.

"We think about them every day," she said. "I hope they realize that they're really making a difference in people's lives."

Annis' two daughters, Ella, 14, and 16-year-old Emily, were also on hand to thank paramedics.

"Just, thank you for keeping my dad alive," Ella said.

Emily said it still doesn't seem real when they talk about what happened to her dad.

"I'm just so thankful that everybody was there and everybody was helping," she said.

The Annis family met with paramedics on Friday to say thank you for saving John's life. The meeting included fruit and cookies brought in by the family, some photos and some hugs. (Kate Bueckert/CBC)

Chance to reconnect 'pretty amazing'

Heather Eimers was one of the paramedics who responded to the call that day, and she was touched the Annis family wanted to say thank you.

"Never in almost six years, I've never, ever gotten to really reconnect with anybody," she said.

"It's pretty amazing to see the actual people and the families and the impact that it made on them. It's pretty special."

Gracy Perry said in her 15 years on the job, it's also the first time she's reconnected with someone she helped save.

"It's been wonderful," she said. "It's just nice to be able to know that we helped somebody. That's really what we're here for, and it worked."

As for Annis, when asked how he's feeling, he responded, "I dare say, I feel great."

"The irony of this whole event is in a really strange way, there's a bit of a gift from it, because my general outlook has been happiness and gratitude," he said.

"I'm thankful to be alive. I'm thankful to have my family. I think everything tastes a little better and seems a little sweeter, and I'm back mostly to my normal way of life and exercising, which is really fun and important for me and I feel good."

During a bike ride in January, John Annis of Guelph collapsed and went into cardiac arrest. Thanks to the quick thinking of people passing him, and the help of local paramedics, he’s now on the mend. He and his family recently went to visit the paramedics who saved him to say thanks. 7:12

About the Author

Kate Bueckert

Kate has been covering issues affecting people in southern Ontario for more than 12 years. She currently works for CBC Kitchener-Waterloo.