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Off-duty paramedics, beach-goers in the right place to save soccer player, surfer

The five —including a family of three — were recognized in a B.C. Emergency Heath Services Vital Link ceremony for their lifesaving efforts

Keara Harrigan is happy her partner Stevan Zoric did the wrong thing and decided to play soccer on Jan. 9, 2023.

The 30-year-old had been dealing with heart issues and was going to just hang out at practice that night, but changed his mind at the last minute.

“I should have known that he was going to grab his cleats and practice anyway — it’s what he does,” Harrigan said.

Zoric went into cardiac arrest during the practice at Duncan’s Sherman Road Park Soccer Fields, but fortunately, soccer-playing paramedic Conor Williams — who also happens to be a long-time friend — was there with another team and able to help instantly when Zoric collapsed.

“I am so thankful every single day that he made a bad choice to play soccer, because if this event happens anywhere else, it may not be the outcome that we had,” Harrigan said.

Zoric said he realizes how fortunate he was. “Very lucky that [Williams] was there and lucky that he is trained in the way he is, and that he maintained his professionalism.”

Williams was recognized Tuesday at a B.C. Emergency Heath Services ceremony at its Douglas Street centre for his lifesaving efforts, including giving his friend CPR and using an automated-external defibrillator from the field’s clubhouse.

“I just happened to be in the right place at the right time,” he said.

Three members of a family who sprang into action to save the life of a surfer at Jordan River on May 14, 2023 were also honoured.

After a man collapsed at the popular surfing spot, Will and Sarah Krzymowski and their 13-year-old daughter, Mabel, jumped in to help.

“We started chest compressions and mouth-to-mouth, probably less than a minute after the heart attack,” Sarah Krzymowski said.

Mabel ran to the nearby Cold Shoulder Cafe to find someone with cell reception and came back with off-duty paramedic Jared Kowalchuk.

Kowalchuk took over CPR, as well as using an automated-external defibrillator that by chance was in an onlooker’s vehicle.

In both cases, ambulances arrived to take the patients to hospital.

The Krzymowskis each received a Vital Link Award, given to citizens who respond to a cardiac-arrest emergency, while Williams and Kowalchuk were given letters of commendation for putting their skills to use while off-duty.

In Zoric’s case, Williams said it was a real team effort where other players pitched in.

“I’m very appreciative of the award but this award’s not about me,” Williams said. “This is about people running to get an AED from the clubhouse, get a first-aid kit.”

Sarah Krzymowski also commended others at the scene at Jordan River.

“While my husband and I were the first people that were able to get to the patient after the heart attack, we feel like we played such a small part.”

She said she has been trained in CPR since high school and her husband had recently done a training course through work “and felt equipped to help because of it.”

“I would like to envision a world where he can go out surfing and most people around would know CPR if something happened.”

An AED has since been put in the Jordan River camping area.

B.C. Emergency Health Services spokesperson Brian Twaites said more than 60,000 people have an out-of-hospital cardiac arrest every year in Canada, and their chance of survival more than doubles when bystanders intervene right away and use one of the defibrillators.

jbell@timescolonist.com