Man, 24, dies after collapsing at Montreal Marathon

"His face haunts me," said one of the women who rushed to help Patrick Neely when he collapsed not far from the half-marathon finish line, then waited 20 to 25 minutes for an ambulance to arrive.

Witness who came to aid of Patrick Neely said response time from first responders was 'unacceptably long'

Runners start during the Oasis Rock 'n' Roll Marathon in Montreal on Sunday. (Al Bello/Getty Images)

A 24-year-old man died Sunday after he collapsed while running in the Montreal Marathon.

Patrick Neely was competing in the 21.1-kilometre half-marathon when he collapsed near the corner of Cherrier and St-Hubert streets at around 10 a.m.

He was about two kilometres from the finish line when he went into cardiac arrest, authorities said.

Urgences-santé spokesperson Valérie Tremblay said when first responders arrived, bystanders were performing CPR on the man.

The race's own first-aid teams were not yet on the scene, she said.

Ambulance workers took over and transported the victim to hospital in critical condition. 

The Quebec coroner's office confirmed that Neely later died.

'Stay with us!'

Montreal resident Josée Gagnon was among the first to offer assistance to Neely. Early for a Sunday morning appointment, she decided to watch the marathon from the sidelines.

Gagnon's attention was drawn to a young woman holding a sign, cheering on the participants. Then her eyes fell on Neely.

Josée Gagnon was watching the runners as they neared the end of the half-marathon course when she saw Patrick Neely, 24, collapse. She said by the time the ambulance arrived, he was turning blue, despite efforts by others who'd rushed to his aid to resuscitate him. (Josée Gagnon/Facebook)

"He sort of smiled," said Gagnon. He appeared to be struggling but looked determined to finish, she said.

"The next second, he fell to the ground."

She ran to the man's side, along with two or three other women. She said it was another 20 to 25 minutes before an ambulance arrived.

It took so long that Gagnon thought she had lost all concept of time in the heat of the moment. But after reviewing her phone records, she concluded that "it was unacceptably long."

She cooled Neely with water while others continued efforts to resuscitate him. She talked to him, reassuring him, screaming, "Stay with us!"

Medical professionals participating in the race stopped and tried to help, but without a defibrillator on hand, there was little that could be done beyond chest compressions.

'His face haunts me'

Gagnon watched as Neely turned blue, people crowding around.

She called 911 to ask what was taking so long, and the operator told her not to panic. But the operator also told her they had not yet received any calls about the incident. 

Speaking to CBC News on Monday, Gagnon teared up as she expressed her own feelings of watching Neely succumb to cardiac arrest.

"It's not normal what happened," she said. "His face haunts me. I think of his mother."

A spokesperson for Urgences-santé said that ambulances are stationed nearby during the marathon. (Al Bello/Getty Images)

Ambulances nearby

Urgences-santé's Tremblay said her service was notified of the collapsed runner at 9:55 a.m. First responders, including ambulance workers, arrived eight minutes later, at 10:03 a.m.

Tremblay said Urgences-santé had been collaborating with organizers to make sure ambulances could respond quickly to all emergencies.

Race organizers post first-aid teams along the route, she said, and ambulances are stationed nearby to assist when notified. She was unable to say who called 911.

Other than the usual traffic, she said, there were no major delays in getting an ambulance, already on standby, to the scene Sunday morning.

"We know how this event works, so we are prepared for those kinds of things," she told CBC Montreal's Daybreak on Monday.

Rock 'n' Roll Montreal Marathon race director Dominique Piché told CBC News Monday morning he would not provide more information until organizers had more details of what happened. He said his focus was on the athlete's family and friends, extending his condolences to them.

The marathon organization issued a brief statement later in the day, confirming the runner's death early Monday morning at the Centre hospitalier de l'Université de Montréal. It also confirmed that it took medical personnel with advanced lifesaving equipment about eight minutes to arrive on the scene after the 911 call came in.

"Staffing, planning, and preparation related to medical support for the event [have] been ongoing for nearly a year, and all resources were appropriately in place on race day, including more than 50 AEDs [automated external defibrillators] and over 80 health professionals throughout the course, as well as eight ambulances dedicated to the event," the statement said.

"We would like to thank the fast response of the Good Samaritan for their efforts, as well as event medical personnel who worked diligently to treat the race participant."

With files from CBC Montreal's Daybreak, Lauren McCallum and Sean Henry


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