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Saturday, March 4, 2017

What a Hero looks like.

Last night I had a moment sitting in front of Paul Spring when I thought I might completely break down in tears. I could feel them gathering in the corner of my eye, and I was taking some deep breaths so as to not make a complete fool of myself.

I had once again taken a minute to try to find some words to say thank you to him for all that he has done not just for our family, but for all of the Wood Buffalo region. His usual response was, "It's my job." And while I understand that he has been doing it for so long, and he does it so professionally that I think he just doesn't understand the ramifications that his "job" has on families.

Let me start from the beginning. Four years ago this May someone had told me that STARS, the well known air ambulance service did not serve the Fort McMurray region. Like many, I thought the person was wrong, and immediately started looking into it. I ended up calling Paul to ask him directly about the medevac service that we had in Fort McMurray. We talked for over an hour and a half, and I was dumbfounded by the information that he shared, it was the beginning of my fascination with the service in Fort McMurray. Never in a million years did I think at the time that we would ever be needing the service for anyone in our family.

Just two short weeks later I had just left a meeting at the hospital, when I received a call that Tyler was in emergency and had been hurt at work. I had just texted him earlier that morning about what I was making for supper, so my first thought was that it wasn't bad, it just couldn't be, I would know. This was the spring of 2013, and we were in the middle of the flood situation. Once Tyler's coworkers began to arrive, and we talked to doctors, we realized it was a horrible accident, and when the ambulance couldn't reach Tyler, it was Paul who flew in to airlift him out for help. At the time, Paul was working on getting his pilots trained for night flights, so that we could have a 24 hour dedicated service. H.E.R.O was born about two years ago, and stands for Helicopter Emergency Response Organization. The goal for the organization was that once it was set up, the funding, and everything attached to the medevac would be a sole entity, not connected to Phoenix. In fact, probably the only thing that I have disagreed with Paul over the years is that he is too modest, like painfully so, and he does not want his name connected to the service, and shies away from media or any attention about all that he does for our region. I think he should be telling some of the amazing stories of dramatic rescues, or even all that he did during the fire. Many do not know that he saved people in Draper by going and landing when they were surrounded by flames to take them to safety, and he did the same for patients at the hospital who were critical.

I could go on and on all day about the stories that I have heard over the years about this service. But here's some important points. If Paul had not taken on the initiative, we would not have medevac service here in town, never mind a 24 hour service. Now imagine if you or your child were in an accident say up north while camping, or south of town on highway 63. Would you want to sit beside your child and hold their hand for 2 hours while waiting for an ambulance? Well, our Tyler laid there for over an hour waiting for that ambulance. HERO's log shows that it took them 11 minutes to get to Tyler, and they made it back in 10 minutes. The difference is life saving. People that are having heart attacks, or strokes don't have the time to be waiting, and when airlifted and receiving medical attention more quickly, their recovery time is quicker, and their outcomes are better. So that means less time in the hospital, so all around the taxpayers win.

The hurtles are that people just don't know about this amazing service. And then funding such a service is an enormous burden. One that HERO has carried alone until this weekend. I'm not sure how it played out over lunch one day, but I am sure that it was Paul could not say no to Ramona Morrison, and she set the wheels in motion.

Ramona is a Fort McMurray legend, she has raised millions of dollars for our region, and started things like the Festival of Trees. After the fire, Chef Michael Smith had reached Ramona on Mother's Day to make sure she was okay, and he said that once things settled down he would come out to help however he could. The East Coast Lobster Party was eventually born, and will happen tonight at Shell Place. And I cannot wait to see how the residents of Fort McMurray show their love to HERO for all they have done in the last few years.

Paul's biggest cheerleader, and supporter is Andrea, his wife. I had met her a few years back, but in the last few weeks I have come to love her as much as I love Paul. Their dedication to the community just amazes me. Even at the end of the evening last night, they were the ones carrying things to storage or cars, and looking after last minute details. And while I loved Paul for saving Tyler, I think my respect for them has grown tenfold because they just stepped up when no one else did, and carried that burden without ever complaining. In fact, I remember about two years ago being quite upset about some funding that was suppose to come and it fell through. I was ranting about it to Paul, and he just said, "All we can do is our best, and getting upset isn't going to help any patients, or anyone else. We just need to keep moving forward and hopefully someday, we will be supported." Never angry, and never negative towards those that did not step up even after they said they would....never.

So tonight, I hope that funding is raised, and the word gets out about what HERO actually does for all of us here in Fort McMurray. Ramona, Andrea, Paul, Shelley, the HERO team, and everyone else who I have met in the last few months in preparing for tonight, you all amaze me, and I love you all. Your work ethic makes me want to do better in life, and I am so proud of all that you do for our community. Ramona, you are a special star in Fort McMurray, I have a whole new respect for you, and I will now need your biscuit and oatcake recipes if you don't want us constantly dropping by for tea.

And my final words go to Paul and Andrea. You have worked so hard on this event, but I realized last night that you have been working at this level for years behind the scenes. I will never find the proper words to say thank you, because I know that if it wasn't for Paul's commitment, and Andrea's support of that, Tyler would not be here. And he is just one of the lives that you have saved over the years, so I'm sure there are 100's of others who feel the same way as I do. I hope you are able to enjoy tonight, although it's kind of like a wedding, so much work, and you don't really get to sit back and enjoy it. At least take a minute to look around and realize how many lives you impact. Thank you, you guys are the best.

Paul and I at the grand opening of the airport three years ago.

One of my favourite pictures of Tyler and Nicole.