As It Happens

How Facebook strangers and B.C. loggers helped save a rural man's life

When Heather Balaam's husband had a heart attack in their rural B.C. home, she couldn't reach 911— so she reached out for help using a computer and a walkie-talkie.

When his wife couldn't reach 911, she reached out for help with a computer and a walkie-talkie

Che Lapointe had to rely on strangers, both online and offline, to help get him an ambulance after he had a heart attack in his remote B.C. home. (Richard Lam/Canadian Press)
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Heather Balaam says she's overwhelmed by the kindness of strangers after people on Facebook and several local loggers came to her husband's aid when he had a heart attack at their remote B.C. home. 

Balaam's husband Che Lapointe was doing chores on Friday afternoon when he started struggling for breath and experiencing sharp pains in his chest and back. 

"He was white. He was in pain. He was sweating so bad, he had taken all his clothes off, his sweaters, and they were soaking wet," Balaam told As It Happens host Carol Off.

"He looked at me and he said, 'Heather, I think I'm having a heart attack.'"

The couple lives about 45 kilometres outside of Princeton along a forest service road, where they have no landline and spotty cellphone service. 

After a frantic and fruitless search for Aspirin, Balaam tried calling 911 — but she couldn't get a connection.

"It was like, oh my goodness, what do I do now? What am I going to do? I can't get through to them," she said.

'I need help. I need 911'

So she went to her computer and wrote out a message on the "Princeton BC Rants, Raves, Issues" community Facebook group. 

"I just typed in — in capital letters, spelling mistakes, I didn't care — I just said, 'Help. I need help. I need 911,'" she said. "I typed in my help message, gave them an address."

People in the group immediately sprang into action, she said, co-ordinating to get an ambulance for Lapointe.

As the responses poured in, Balaam turned her attention to a more old-fashioned piece communications technology — a walkie-talkie the couple keeps on hand to talk to loggers in the area.

The loggers also sprung into action right away. They told her to put her husband in a car and meet them at the bottom of her driveway. 

"I get to the end of the driveway, there's two logging trucks. There's two fellows and they had Aspirin on them and a bottle of water," she said.

"They said, 'Listen, we'll close the road off. We'll declare a medical emergency. We'll follow you.'"

After Lapointe had swallowed some crushed Aspirin, Balaam dove him the 11 kilometres to the highway, where they met with several more loggers.

"My husband was in the front seat of the car. He was getting worse and worse," Balaam said. "One of the men said, 'Come over here, please. You can talk to the 911 dispatch through my system."

After that, there was nothing to do but wait.

'I really thought I was going to die'

"That was, for me, I think, the scariest point, was sitting there waiting for the ambulance because I really thought I was going to die right there," Lapointe told Global News, which originally reported this story.

He was barely holding on, Balaam said.

"His speech was starting to slur. At one point, his head dropped down and his eyes closed and I'd thought I'd lost him —  but he gasped and started shaking and came back," she said, her voice catching.

"And then all of a sudden, he looked up out of the stupor and he had this smile on his face, and his hand went up in the air and he was pointing and he's going, 'Look, there's the ambulance!'"

Paramedics rushed him to the hospital in Kelowna where he underwent emergency surgery. 

By the time Balaam arrived, Lapointe was out of surgery and looking well. 

"He was sitting up. He had colour in his face. I looked at him. He smiled and said, 'Hello.' He seemed almost normal. He said, 'I just got out of surgery,'" she said.

"I just almost collapsed."

When things calmed down, Balaam returned to the Facebook group to thank people for their help and update them on her husband's condition.

She has since learned that at least four people called 911 on her behalf. 

"I know none of these people," she said. "Just unthinkingly, they just jumped in and did what they could do to help support us and get us through this.

"It's just a wonderful use of Facebook. Never again will I say a bad thing about loggers or Facebook."

Written by Sheena Goodyear. Interview with Healther Balsaam produced by Ashley Mak. 

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