The quick actions of an off-duty paramedic helped save the life of a 13-year-old girl in Penticton last week.
Quinn Gallacher has heard those kind of screams before, and knew he had to stop and help.
The Peachland paramedic was driving through downtown Penticton during a visit on Tuesday, July 28, when he heard a commotion.
“I’ve heard screams like that before, and usually it’s something wrong, something didn’t sit right driving past… so we turned around,” Gallacher said.
He quickly noticed a crowd of people gathered around a van, crowded around a young girl who was choking.
Gallacher’s training took over and he jumped into action, after learning a bottle cap had become stuck in the throat of 13-year-old Elizabeth Tong.
“All I heard was screaming in the back seat, so I pulled over, we got her out of the van, we got her standing up. A whole bunch of people started to gather… Quinn came over, offered his help, told us he was a paramedic,” said father, Tony Tong.
The Lake Country-born paramedic immediately started performing the heimlich maneuver, and was able to dislodge the bottle cap, turning it from a complete obstruction to just a partial obstruction.
Now that she was breathing again, Gallacher was able to communicate with the young girl, instructing her to keep coughing.
As other paramedics rolled up, the girl was able to expel the bottle cap on her own, and was taken to hospital where she was monitored for several hours.
“I’m just glad I was there… it went as good as it could have gone,” Gallacher said.
“To be honest with you, I’ve been doing this for eight years now. It’s not really… it’s just my job. Even though I’m not getting paid and I’m not in uniform, it’s no different. I’ve got into this line of work because I wanted to help people.”
Gallacher admitted it was a high-stress situation. In addition to an overall panic among people in the crowd, Elizabeth is special needs and non-verbal. Trying to communicate with her, Gallacher said was a challenge, however he succeeded in doing so by imitating what he wanted her to do.
The Tong’s have since returned to Calgary, but were eager to express gratitude towards both Gallacher, and the other individuals who helped save Elizabeth’s life.
“He deserves all the credit for helping maybe even save Elizabeth’s life for all we know,” Tony said. “She wasn’t able to breathe through her mouth at all, and it’s especially challenging when you’re non-verbal and no body language either.
“We’re grateful to him for sure, and the people at the Penticton Regional Hospital were very, very helpful.”
The family also extended their thanks to the other paramedics who arrived on scene after Gallacher, and to the hospital staff who watched over Elizabeth for several hours after the incident.
Gallacher encourages everyone to pursue training in CPR.
“I can’t stress enough how much CPR and first aid goes a long way, that little girl could have easily died if nobody around me knew what they were doing. It’s pretty important…. you never know when you’re going to be put in a situation like that.”