Grateful Winnipeg man thanks strangers who helped save his life

A Winnipeg man got the chance to say thank you Monday to two of the people who rushed to his side when his heart suddenly stopped beating during a jog last year.

Mark Smith says if it wasn't for the intervention of an 'angel,' he wouldn't be alive today

Mark Smith meets his guardian angels

6 years ago
Duration 2:32
A Winnipeg man got the chance to say thank you Monday to two of the people who rushed to his side when his heart suddenly stopped beating during a jog last year.

A Winnipeg man got the chance to say thank you Monday to two of the people who rushed to his side when his heart suddenly stopped beating during a jog last year.

Mark Smith says last Christmas he was given the gift of time.

The 62-year-old collapsed on a Wellington Crescent sidewalk in December 2015 and might have died, were it not for the "angel" who came to his aid and administered CPR to a comatose stranger.

That angel turned out to be at least four Good Samaritans plus paramedics and other medical staff who brought him back to life.

Monday morning on CBC Manitoba's Information Radio, Smith spoke to Jaime Boulerice, a teacher who was across the street when he collapsed. She and her close friend Liz Morales were some of the first people to help Smith after his heart stopped.

Mark Smith is grateful for another year, after he collapsed last year on a sidewalk and was given CPR by a stranger. (CBC)

"I looked across the street and I said to her, 'Is that a rock or is that a man?' because I saw something hunched over," said Boulerice.

The two friends rushed over to Smith's side and saw he was not breathing. They helped to lay him down on the ground while a man started CPR and a second man called 911.

"It's so incredible to hear how many people were involved in making this happen," Smith said, who is especially grateful to the man who started administering the life-saving chest compressions.

"It's amazing that somebody would have been able to respond so quickly and then provide the intervention, around 10 minutes of CPR.… I was hanging on by a thread."

Boulerice said she had waited a year to find out what had happened to the man she helped.

"There's been so many times since then when we've just said, 'I wonder if he made it. I wonder what happened.'"

Smith was able to thank both Boulerice and Morales in person later on Monday.

No memory

All Smith remembers about Dec. 6, 2015, is going for a run around 5 p.m. 

Five days later he woke up in a hospital room with tubes in his chest after undergoing triple bypass surgery.

His body temperature had been lowered to protect his brain from damage because of the lack of oxygen. As he emerged from the fog, he began to piece the story together.

Close friends Jamie Boulerice, left, and Liz Morales didn't know what happened to the man they helped save last year until CBC told Mark Smith's story. (Tyson Koschik/CBC)

While Smith was in cardiac intensive care, the paramedics who brought him to the hospital told his wife someone had administered CPR to her husband for about 10 minutes before first responders arrived.

They had to defibrillate Smith at the scene and again in the ambulance.

Less than eight per cent of patients who suffer heart attacks outside of a hospital are resuscitated, according to a recent University of Washington study. 

"At some point it dawned on me that this person was critical to the whole process. Without this angel, I was gone. This could have happened while I was alone at home, and I wouldn't be here today," Smith said. 

"Who is this person? Did they see me collapse or just happen to be walking by? There is a great deal of curiosity as well as gratitude."

Hoping to connect

With Christmas just around the corner again, Smith said he wanted to thank the Good Samaritans who helped him and share his blessings. 

He posted a message of thanks on his Facebook page and sent it to the Paramedic Association of Manitoba, hoping one of the first responders got the name of the person who administered CPR. 

"I would want to hug them first of all and say, 'Thank you so much.' I want them to know the outcome of their efforts. I am alive today. Thank you so much. It has meant the world to me. I am so happy that I am still able to be here and part of my family's lives. This is very, very special."

Run tracked

Smith was shocked this summer when he opened his RunKeeper app and saw a bizarre route — the one he took Dec. 6, 2015. 

The phone app, which maps jogging routes and logs the time, had tracked his nearly fatal run. 

"The realization of it, I lost my footing and I stumbled. I was taken aback by it. I saw where I fell, how long I was on the ground, the route to the hospital and when I arrived in the ambulance," he said.

He wishes the app had a recording device so he could hear the voice of his rescuer.

Smith has made a full recovery with no permanent heart damage. After five months of rehabilitation, he is back at his job as a researcher in epidemiology at the University of Manitoba.

While he is back in his regular routines, he sees life differently now, he said. 

"A great favour has been done for me. I think, how can I pay that forward in some way?"