Stranger leaps into action to save Whitehorse man after heart attack

A Whitehorse man is alive today thanks to some fast action from a total stranger.

CPR administered for 45 minutes, miraculously no brain damage

Sébastien Bernier, right, leapt into action after David Sloan, left, suffered a massive heart attack at Raven Recycling. Sloan's wife, Mary Sloan, stands next to him in this shot. (George Maratos/CBC)

Sébastien Bernier had just come out of a chiropractor appointment and was pretty relaxed as he drove by Raven Recycling in Whitehorse this past October.

That's when he noticed a cluster of people staring at the ground.

They were looking at 72 year-old David Sloan, who moments before had been sorting his bottles and cans and was now lying motionless on the ground.

Curious as to what was happening, Bernier rolled down his window and was informed that Sloan had just collapsed.

David Sloan was sorting his recyclables at Raven Recycling when he went into cardiac arrest. Staff and Sébastien Bernier were quick to come to his rescue. (Raven Recycling/Submitted)

"The look on their faces, I knew something was happening but I didn't think it was a heart attack, just that someone had fainted," said Bernier. 

When he learned of Sloan's situation Bernier, who worked with a ski patrol in Quebec and as a firefighter, immediately took action.

I guess I suffered a heart attack- David Sloan

At this point Sloan had been unresponsive for almost two minutes.

"I started to do CPR right away," said Bernier. 

Two minutes later, Sloan began breathing again.

That's when the paramedics took over.

"I stayed around a while after but it was stressful not knowing how he was going to be," said Bernier. "After leaving, I remember driving home and I just started bawling."

Complicating matters for Sloan was the fact his wife, Mary Sloan, was in Chicago when he went into cardiac arrest.

Mary Sloan calls Sébastien Bernier their guardian angel after leaping into action to save her husband David's life after he suffered a massive heart attack at Raven Recycling. (George Maratos/CBC)

"I got a phone call from Gareth (their son) and he said, 'Dad is going to be ok, that's the first thing I have to tell you, then I have to tell you he just had a massive heart attack,'" she said.

She had just spent the past three months visiting her grandson and daughter, and immediately began planning her trip home.

She called Air North to book flights and arranged for the necessary COVID-19 testing.

"When I got the call, I couldn't believe it," said Mary. "Then I tried to tell myself, 'it's not that bad, it's just a heart attack ... really, I was thinking, 'is he going to be ok, what am I going to find?'"

The Recovery

When Mary arrived in Vancouver, where David had been transported several days earlier, he was still in a medically-induced coma.

The doctors told her to prepare for the worst given that he was given CPR for 45 minutes and was defibrillated five times.

David Sloan is alive today thanks to the efforts of some total strangers. He received CPR for 45 minutes and was defibrillated five times after having a heart attack but miraculously suffered no brain damage. (George Maratos/CBC)

"They said I could expect him to have some anoxic brain damage," said Mary. "That was tough, that was rough."

Miraculously, that did not happen.

For his part, David doesn't talk much about the incident.

"To be quite frank, I can't remember anything outside of standing outside of my truck," he said. "I guess I suffered a heart attack. The last thing I remember is waking up in the ICU."

Just a few weeks later, David was slowly returning to his old self, cracking jokes with hospital staff and his wife.

Mary credits her hours of talking with him and playing Irish music for his surprising recovery.

"One morning when he woke up, I asked him where we were and he naturally replied, 'Dublin.'"

And while David has no recollection of Bernier's efforts that day, he's been well informed of what happened.

"Good genes and quick service because these guys swept into action," said David, when asked why he thinks he managed to avoid serious damage.

Meeting their hero

Once back in Whitehorse, both Mary and David were eager to meet the man who helped save David's life, but they had no idea who he was.

Thanks to some sleuthing on Facebook, they found out.

They brought some donuts for the staff at Raven Recycling and then arranged to meet Bernier in person.

"The first phone call, I remember picking up the phone and hearing 'hi, I'm David Sloan," said Bernier. "I start laughing and said 'you're alive' ... I was so happy to hear his voice and know he had no brain damage."

Mary now refers to Bernier as their guardian angel.

For David, the whole incident reiterates his decision years ago to call the Yukon and Whitehorse home.

"You realize how interdependent we are and it's not indifferent like large cities sometimes can be, having people coming forward to help out and come to your aid," said David. "Im so grateful for that, the real fortune in the Yukon is the people, not the gold."

Today, David continues to recover at his home in Whitehorse with his wife Mary.


George Maratos

Associate Producer

George Maratos is a reporter and associate producer at CBC Yukon with more than a decade of experience covering the North.