'Heroes' honoured for saving 14-year-old kid's life in Surrey

by Dennis Kim
Photo Credit: Greg Rosenke

Alex Romero-Gomez suffered sudden cardiac arrest in July and was brought back to life, thanks to the actions of three lifeguards and a weight room attendant at the Surrey Sports and Leisure Centre and an AED machine.

Ryan Uppal remembers the exact moment Alex Romero-Gomez came back to life.

Uppal, a lifeguard at the Surrey Sports and Leisure Centre, had been performing CPR on the 14-year-old, who suddenly collapsed while working out in the weight room. When Uppal and his colleagues arrived, Alex was unconscious, convulsing, and did not have a pulse.

His colleague Grace Marginson, had administered a shock using an automatic external defibrillator (AED), and Uppal resumed CPR again.

“While my hands were going into the compressions, I felt his heart start up again. I could feel it hitting, like high-fiving the palm of my hand,” recalled Uppal, recounting the events on July 16 before first responders arrived.

For their heroic actions, lifeguards Uppal, Marginson and Gavneet Sabharwal, as well as weight room attendant Anthony Mauricio, were honoured by B.C. Emergency Health Services Sunday with the Vital Link Award, which is given to honour the actions of bystanders in a cardiac arrest emergency.

Their intervention saved Alex’s life, said doctors and Alex’s grateful mom, Esmeralda Gomez.

“They’re the reason why my child is here,” said Gomez. “With the proper use of CPR and the AED machine, they brought my son back to life, and for that, we’re forever grateful.”

More than 45,000 Canadians suffer sudden cardiac arrest — a situation when the heart’s electrical system malfunctions — each year.

The use of CPR and AEDs, a portable defibrillation device that can deliver an electric shock to the heart, in the first crucial moments after a sudden cardiac arrest can increase survival rates by up to 75 per cent.

“Every second counts when someone is in cardiac distress,” said Dave Leary, acting unit chief of the B.C. ambulance station in North Delta, which responded to 911 calls for Alex that day. “In our view, Ryan, Anthony, Grace and Gavneet are heroes.”

Alex, now 15, met his four saviours earlier this summer, and has developed close friendships with them. “Words cannot describe how thankful I was, and still am,” he said.

Receiving the award was an honour, said Uppal, but the greatest gift had been to meet Alex and his family and become his friend: “The connection we made with him since then has been more rewarding than any award we would have gotten.”

Doctors do not know why Alex, an otherwise healthy, athletic teen with no family history of heart problems, suffered sudden cardiac arrest.

Gomez was alarmed when she found out Surrey schools, including Alex’s school Fleetwood Park Secondary, are not equipped with AEDs. She was told by the district there were liability issues and limited funding to buy the machines, which cost about $2,000 each.

“That doesn’t make sense to me,” said Gomez, who has become an advocate for placing AEDs in schools. “Coquitlam, Burnaby and West Vancouver has them, so why not Surrey? This can happen to anybody and anywhere.”

Gomez’ petition urging the school district to reconsider has collected close to 1,900 signatures.

Sourced from: Cheryl Chan - Vancouver Sun

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