Alberta EMS appreciation page gives thanks and support to paramedics

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WATCH: A Facebook group is growing in popularity for Albertans wanting to express thanks about how paramedics have impacted their lives. As Lisa MacGregor reports, messages of stories and gratitude pour in daily – May 15, 2018

Saying thank you goes a long way and many people often don’t get the chance to say it, especially to first responders in Alberta.

An Alberta EMS appreciation page on Facebook is changing that for paramedics.

It’s an outlet where peers and patients leave posts sharing stories about the lives paramedics have saved or even brought into this world, while others also write messages offering support during tough times.

The Voortman family in Calgary wrote a message last week saying thanks to paramedics who helped deliver their third baby on the side of the road after Natalie Voortman’s birth plan changed abruptly.

“I had one big contraction and my water broke and I just started screaming, ‘We’re not going to make it!’ I was in total panic, you know?

“All of a sudden I’m in the back of an ambulance hitting 200 potholes while in labour,” Natalie said.

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READ MORE: Dad delivers baby in car outside Edmonton birthing centre

Natalie and her husband Thomas were in an ambulance with paramedics Courtney Isbister and Jessica van der Hoek just two minutes away from the hospital when the baby’s head started crowning.

“Baby was not willing to wait. So I let my partner know she needed to pull over and join me in the back and we delivered right there on the side of the road,” Isbister said.

“I was like, ‘Oh wow, this is happening,” Thomas said. “They let me clamp the cord and I got to cut it right there in the ambulance.”

That’s how baby Andrew was born last week in Calgary, weighing in at nine pounds and 10 ounces.

Thomas expressed his gratitude on the Alberta EMS appreciation page writing: “Just wanted to say a very special thank you to Courtney Isbister and her partner Jessica on Calgary medic 5. On Sunday night, my wife went into labour while we were driving to the hospital and we knew we weren’t going to make it so we drove to Fire Station #31,” it read.

“We had to pull the ambulance over on the way to Foothills to deliver right there in the back of the ambulance and they were amazing!”

The Facebook group has more than 2,400 members, with people writing daily thank you notes like: “I need to give a huge shout out to two people whom I don’t know … here’s these two paramedics pulled over, lights flashing to warn oncoming traffic, and they’re down twisting a tire wrench to help a lady change her tire.”

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Others offer support during tough times. It’s a much needed outlet for a stressful job.

According to a Canadian advocacy group for emergency workers, the Tema Conter Memorial Trust (TEMA), in 2017 an estimated 52 first responders died by suicide in Canada. A total of 68 took their own lives last year. The problem is most pronounced in corrections officers and paramedics, which account for more than 50 per cent of first responder PTSD cases.

READ MORE: PTSD, suicide and first responders — A lot of talk, and not much progress

Isbister says words on a Facebook page can help a lot when they’re on the job.

“I think it was initially started to bring us, as profession, closer together — just to reach out to each other and say thanks for backing us up — and the fact that it’s grown to this level is surprising,” Isbister said.

Some paramedics don’t always realize the difference their work makes for families like the Voortmans.

“It’s something that our baby’s going to grow up hearing about a million times,” Natalie said. “To be in a situation like that where you’re so vulnerable and you’re scared and you’re worried and to have these professionals step in and take the place of a midwife that you’ve been seeing for nine months now, you just can’t say thank you enough.”

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READ MORE: Thanks for Caring: New AHS website aims to show appreciation for healthcare workers

Thomas, who happens to be a Calgary firefighter, sees what they do on a regular basis and has such admiration for their hard work.

Isbister’s life is also changed by moments like that call with the Voortmans.

“That is a career first and I know it will be something I’ll remember forever,” Isbister said. “We’re often there for people at the worst day, so to be there for something so happy — it’s amazing.”

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