Last week’s installment of Living talked about heroes, the qualities and traits that make a hero, and who we choose to honour as our heroes. As promised, this week brings you some real Canadian heroes: stories of ordinary men and women who risked their lives to save someone else’s life, or accomplished amazing feats, in extraordinary ways, simply because they were moved to make the world a better place, or because it seemed like the right thing to do at the time.
Heroes come in all ages, and from all over Canada. For example, Robert Crawford donated 67% of his liver to his sister-in-law, so she could have a transplant at Toronto General Hospital back in September 2005. The 44-year old Ontario man explained, “She is just like my own sister and I would never be able to forgive myself if anything ever happened to her.” The operation was a success. Crawford is still making headlines, as he and the woman who received the liver transplant, Marilyn Olivo-Crawford, plan a Cross-Canada motorcycle ride to increase public awareness of organ and tissue donation. The plan is to raise enough money to buy equipment for each of the major transplant centres in the country.
The four week, 8,000 km. ride begins in Halifax on July 21st and wraps up in Vancouver on August 18th. Crawford clearly wasn’t satisfied with “just” helping a member of his family; he’s now on a mission to help other people’s families too.
On February 12th, 2007, Canada’s Governor General, the Right Honourable Michaëlle Jean, announced the names of those Canadians receiving decorations for bravery. The award began in 1972, as a way for the country to recognize heroic acts in hazardous circumstances.
The newest Medal of Bravery recipient is Sharon Jean Bard, a Champion, Alberta grandmother, who saved her 13 year-old grandson and her husband from a house fire on December 10th, 2005. After leading her grandson outside to safety through the flames, thick smoke, and falling debris, she went back for her disabled, barely conscious husband. Despite severe burns to her hands and feet, Bard dragged him from the hallway floor out of the burning building.
Proving that heroes come in all ages, two Toronto teenagers saved their grandmother from drowning during a ferocious rainstorm. On August 19th, 2005, news reports were warning people to seek shelter in their basements due to impending tornadoes when Kayla Denomme, 13, Kiana Denomme, 12, and their grandmother found themselves trapped in rapidly rising water in the basement — water which within seconds was more than six and a half feet deep. According to firefighters, the elderly lady sunk below the surface, telling her grand-daughters to save themselves, but the girls used their swimming skills to drag their grandma through floating furniture and debris to safety.
The Governor General also will award a Medal of Bravery to Éric Girard of Sherbrooke, Quebec, a modern-day Lancelot. Girard and his fiancé were boating in Lac-Saint-Jean on August 7th, 2005 when their personal watercraft was capsized after mechanical problems. Caught in waves over three feet high, Girard swam more than four hours, covering a distance of 36 km. from their starting point, towing his hypothermic and semi-conscious fiancé to shore. If he hadn’t already asked her to marry him, chances are she’d be offering a resounding “yes!” after this selfless display of love and courage.
In another saving-damsels-in-distress story, Constable Gerald Proctor of the Vancouver police watched on January 2nd, 2006 as a car involved in a violent accident plunged 60 feet into the Fraser River. A female passenger surfaced and called for help. Proctor didn’t hesitate. He jumped into the strong current and freezing winter water, swimming tirelessly downstream after the victim, despite his own exhaustion and hypothermia. He grabbed onto her and towed her to shore.
On January 30th, 2006, an Amherstburg, Ontario woman saved three neighbors after their house exploded into flames. Sarah McLean was four months pregnant at the time, but that didn’t stop her from racing inside a burning building to evacuate two males, and from going back inside for another woman, before fire crews even reached the house. In addition to the Medal of Bravery from the Governor General, McLean was honoured by the Rotary Club with a Service Above Self Award in the category of heroism.
Jamie Robertson of Calgary, Alberta heard his upstairs neighbor screaming for help as she was being stabbed on Halloween in 2005, by a man with a knife. Robertson ran to help, wrestling with the assailant for the knife until the man broke away and escaped. The woman survived with serious stab wounds to the head and back. Robertson received both a Medal of Bravery and a Carnegie Medal.
Meanwhile, Danielle Walker of Vanderhoof, British Columbia will soon be telling friends about her newest piece of jewelry. Walker, 16, will receive a shiny Medal of Bravery after saving her father from an enraged Red Angus bull weighing more than 2,500 pounds. While her father was being tossed like a ragdoll on the family farm, the teenager raced to his aid, pounding and punching the bull on the snout repeatedly until her father could crawl to safety.
Some heroes are honoured locally, such as the Calgary fly fisherman who rescued a man on March 3rd, 2005 who fell through the winter ice while trying to cross the Bow River. Rod Edwards crawled along the ice and against the current to pull the submerged man out of the freezing water. He dragged him to more solid ice, which gave firefighters a chance to arrive on the scene and treat the man for hypothermia. Edwards was honoured by the Calgary Citizen Recognition Awards for the rescue.
Sometimes heroes just happen to be at the right place at the right time. That was certainly the case for Mathew Vizbulis, 28, of St. Catharines, Ontario. The self-described jack of all trades and artist was rock climbing near the Niagara River in July 2005, when he heard a woman screaming and shouting in an unrecognized language. Seeing three people floating face down in the water, he took off his shoes and his shirt, and jumped into the fast-moving river. He pulled one man to shore, then went back for an unconscious teenage boy, 17. He swam out one more time for a semi-conscious 11-year old boy, and dragged him to safety also. As it turned out, he’d saved the life of the woman’s husband and two sons.
As the Calgary EMS Foundation Citizen Recognition Awards Banquet program notes, “Heroes don’t always show up in uniform, and white knights sometimes forget their horses.”
But a real hero is not hard to recognize. His steed might be made in Japan, and his “shining armour” hot off the rack at Walmart, but he changes the world with acts of selflessness, courage, heroism, kindness, generosity, or bravery in dangerous or difficult circumstances.
A hero is the man, woman, or child who quietly saves someone’s life, finds an ordinary opportunity to do something extraordinary, or gives something of himself to make the world a better place. He might be someone you know. He might be you.