A quick-thinking Mission nurse may have saved a life last week, when she rushed across the food court of a B.C. ferry to perform the Heimlich maneuver on a woman choking on food.
Mission residents Rebecca Dean and her sister in-law Jenny Ruddick, said they were sitting down during the 7 p.m. sailing from Swartz bay to Tsawwassen on Aug. 5, when they heard a commotion on the opposite side of the ferry.
Someone was yelling for a doctor.
Dean said her sister “flew out of her seat” to help. Ruddick, who’s been a nurse for 17 years, said her response was just “instinctive.”
“It’s a wonderful feeling that I was able to save this girl’s life,” she said. “But so many people would have done what I did.”
By the time Ruddick arrived to the young woman, her face was “turning blue,” according to Dean. She said the woman was disabled, and had feeding tubes in place; they soon found out she was non-verbal and had recently undergone a significant surgery.
“She was trying to reach for her throat continuously, her eyes were watering, a lot of mucus. She was very visibly in severe distress,” Ruddick said, adding a ferry worker was performing the Heimlich incorrectly before she intervened.
Ruddick said she maneuvered around the woman, lifted her off the chair and started to perform the Heimlich from the floor. After the third pump, the woman coughed, releasing some of the food, but the majority of her trachea was still blocked.
They said a doctor on board arrived 30 seconds later, along with an off-duty firefighter, and BC Ferries staff began clearing the crowd out of the area.
The doctor warned that if the situation did not improve they would need to perform an emergency tracheotomy. The supplies they had were less than adequate, according to Ruddick, who has worked in the ER.
“That was honestly the scariest point,” Ruddick said, adding all they had was a makeshift tube and a dull knife.
“The girl wasn’t able to understand what was going on at first, and I probably scared the absolute bejesus out of her, which is so sad.”
The woman’s two caregivers were using sign language to communicate with her, as Ruddick apologized and continued to pump the woman’s stomach three more times. Her airways finally cleared.
The doctor used a pulse oximetry to examine her lungs, and found she had oxygen flowing, Dean said. Afterwards, people congratulated her sister’s effort.
“People came up to her afterwards being like, ‘You are incredible,’” Dean said. “She was doing such an amazing job that nobody even wanted to get in the middle.”
The woman was still drowsy, clearly traumatized, but was doing much better as she was cleaned up before arriving in Tsawwassen, they said.
Her caregivers tried to console her and impart that no one was trying to hurt her – Ruddick thinks she knew.
“What makes me feel good is that girl taking a breath, a deep breath, looking across at me and non-verbally saying thank you. You could see that she understood at the end what was going on.”
BC Ferries and BC Emergency Health Services both confirmed an incident did take place. The latter said the patient was taken to hospital in serious condition, but could not give an update on her condition due to privacy concerns.
Ruddick said she doesn’t think she did anything special, and having the doctor, ferry staff, firefighter and her sister working together boosted her confidence.
“There’s not just one person. The people yelling for help, they need to be commended as well,” she said. “I wasn’t the only party, it was a total team effort.”