Nova Scotia

When a man collapsed, this N.S. politician used his paramedic training to help save a life

Argyle MLA Colton Leblanc reverted to his former role as a paramedic after Austin Doucette collapsed at a community event in Yarmouth County.

Argyle MLA Colton Leblanc was part of a group of 6 people who helped save Austin Doucette

Austin Doucette, left, and Argyle MLA Colton Leblanc during a recent meeting. (Submitted by Austin Doucette)

Few people might understand what it means to be in the right place at the right time as well as Austin Doucette.

The Amiraults Hill, N.S., resident was a week removed from his 74th birthday while taking part in the annual haystack building festival in his Yarmouth County community on Aug. 7.

The event gathers people together to build rounded stacks on salt marshes using the traditional technique of their Acadian ancestors. Doucette and a partner were carrying two poles with the hay stacked on top until his partner wanted to stop for a drink of water. That's when Doucette started feeling not quite right.

"I felt like I was going to faint," he said in an interview Tuesday. "Twenty minutes later, I came to and people were standing all around me."

'You can't wait until paramedics show up'

What happened during those 20 minutes was the difference between life and death.

When Doucette collapsed, Argyle MLA Colton Leblanc was nearby also carrying hay with a partner. Leblanc was a political candidate at that point taking part in a community event he'd always wanted to try, but when he saw the former school teacher go down, he reverted to his training as a paramedic.

When he reached Doucette, Leblanc quickly determined that the man's heart had stopped. He called 911 while someone started CPR and then canvassed the crowd to see if there were others who could help.

About six people worked on Doucette while they waited for the ambulance to arrive, with Leblanc taking turns in the CPR rotation when he wasn't helping to coach others. Leblanc said a quick response was critical.

"In these situations, you can't wait until paramedics show up because by that time it's too late. For every passing minute, the chance of survival decreases significantly," said Leblanc.

"It was a true team effort and I'm very grateful to the responders that were helping on scene that day and as well to the paramedics for doing an exemplary job."

'I owe him, obviously, my life'

When paramedics arrived at the scene, they administered oxygen and used an automated external defibrillator, or AED, on Doucette, restarting his heart after the first shock.

Leblanc worked as a paramedic for about five years before he was first elected to the legislature in 2019, but he said experiencing an incident like this from a bystander's point of view solidified how precious life is.

It also drove home for him the importance of people getting CPR training and there being as many publicly available AEDs throughout the province as possible. In this case, the nearest device was about a 10-minute drive away in Tusket and Leblanc determined that it made more sense to work on Doucette and wait for the ambulance.

After he was revived, Doucette was transported to Yarmouth Regional Hospital and a few days later to Halifax, where he had triple bypass surgery on Aug. 20.

He's feeling better now, but still taking it easy for the next six weeks on doctors' orders. A few days ago, he got to thank Leblanc in person, a reunion Doucette called "unbelievable."

"You don't know how to express it at all," he said.

"It's like, you're meeting up with a guy who, had he not been there, you would not be there. I realize that and I owe him, obviously, my life and I'll have him deep into my heart for the rest of mine for sure."

Bystanders followed their training

Doucette joked that he'd already voted for Leblanc early in the provincial election, ahead of the incident.

"I said, 'If that's the way you're going to start paying back people who vote for you, you're going to be a busy man,'" said Doucette.

Leblanc said he and the other responders did what anyone who takes a CPR course would be prepared to do, but he was glad to be able to shake Doucette's hand and give him a hug last week.

"I'm very, very, very grateful for the outcome that Mr. Doucette has had."