ICYMI - Elliott: Savannah Blakley & Angela Burger saved my life
*Okotoks Dawgs trainer Savannah Blakley and team photographer Angela Burger will be honoured with Canadian Red Cross Rescuer Awards in a pre-game ceremony at Seaman Stadium on Tuesday for saving Canadian Baseball Network editor-in-chief Bob Elliott’s life at the club’s annual awards banquet on February 2. Bob wrote this piece as a tribute to them back in March.
By Bob Elliott
Canadian Baseball Network
Savannah Blakley and Angela Burger barely knew each other on Feb. 2 of this year.
They had seen each other around Seaman Stadium, yet, the two Okotoks Dawgs employees didn`t speak a lot, outside of a casual “Hi, how are you?”
There was a good reason: firstly, team photographer Burger (Calgary, Alta.) didn`t talk to a lot of people at games, because she was always concentrating or anticipating her next picture.
Meanwhile, athletic therapist Blakley (Okotoks, Alta.) was usually in the dugout worrying about the next -- or last -- turned ankle, sore shoulder or whatever ailment might befall one of her Dawgs college players.
Their relationship changed on the first Saturday of the second month of the year at the Dawgs 11th annual banquet inside the Foothills Centennial Centre with roughly 400 people attending.
Burger was standing stage left taking pictures of the guest speaker (me) and probably hoping her cameras -- a Nikon D500 and a Nikon D750, one with the 24-70 2.8 lens, the other with the 70-200 2.8 lens -- would not break.
Blakley was seated at a table with college honourees Craig Smith, Richard Mascarenas, their mothers, plus coaches Joe Sergent and Andy Peterson.
Smith, from the Columbia College Cougars, set a Dawgs record of 15 saves to earn Pitcher of the Year honours for the summer, while 2B Mascarenas of Linn Benton Community College Roadrunners, earned the True Grit award hitting .329 with seven doubles, three triples, a homer and 17 RBIs while going 16-for-16 on the base paths.
Smith and Mascarenas were to be honoured later in the program, along with Hall of Fame inductees Mike Rose, a Dawgs backer from Day 1, and former British Columbia Thunderbirds coach Terry McKaig, plus all the grade 12 graduates. Their turns never came.
All were trying to stay awake listening to me as guest speaker when all of a sudden three minutes into the speech down I went.
Angela was first on the scene putting to use her CPR training first learned from St. John Ambulance, then again at the Canadian Red Cross and at work through a third party -- SOS Emergency Response Technologies.
Savannah was an early responder as the men parted letting the experts do what they were trained to do. Savannah had been trained in CPR at first in 2006 during health class in her Calgary high school. Then, she attended Mount Royal University in Calgary earning a certificate in athletic therapy. Now in her current job, Savannah is re-trained every three years.
Savannah said that as I slumped silently in the chair that her ears “Perked up. I knew something was a bit off.”
“I started to undo the buttons of your shirt, but decided it was best to rip off it off,” said Savannah who was standing on the floor, while Angela knelt over my lifeless body.
Angela did chest compressions, while Savannah concentrated on breathing. There are two schools of thoughts on CPR the experts tell me: either 30 chest pumps followed by two breaths, or 15 chest pumps then one breath. Here they were -- not besties -- two people operating smoothly, as they had been training together for years.
The two women were not best buddies, yet they were suddenly operating as smoothly as the Colorado Rockies double play combination of D.J. LeMahieu and Trevor Story.
“At the time you don’t have time to process, Angela was counting and she would say ‘BREATH!’” Savannah said.
Then, bantam coach Lou Pote arrived with a defibrillator which he had spotted hanging on the wall in the hallway of the facility. Pote rushed in and gave it to Savannah.
Angela took the machine and ripped the tape off the batteries. Davina McKaig, wife of University of British Columbia Thunderbirds former coach, Terry McKaig, was helping out as well.
“The machine is the easiest part, the most dummy proof thing ever,” Savannah said. “We followed instructions.” The machine was placed near my ear and Angela pressed the button.
The electrical zap brought me back to life and my heart was pumping again.
Fireman Geoff Scott arrived next from the arena next door, where he had been watching his son, Caden Scott, in a minor midget hockey game. Scott took over from the two women who had saved my life initially.
Then, I crashed again.
More CPR and another zap from the machine.
And my heart was back.
The EMS took me in the ambulance to the cardio intenstive care unit at Foothills Hospital in Calgary.
“After it was over, I kept going things over and over in my head -- wondering if I had done things right,” Angela said. “I was trying to think of what I could have done better. Especially given that I didn’t know the status of your condition.”
* * *
Savannah runs Pro Sports Therapy, two minutes from Seaman Stadium, her summer home, and two minutes from her year-round home. Born and raised in Calgary, she attended McGill University where she studied kinesiology.
Under direct questioning Savannah admitted that yes, she had heard of a couple of Montreal streets named Crescent and Bishop. This is her eighth season with the Dawgs.
At home that night, Savannah phoned her best friend from school, Alana Burke, now of Calgary via Ottawa.
“We didn’t do medical school but we both love the TV show Grey’s Anatomy,” Savannah tried to explain to someone four decades older who has never seen the show. “There are two women who are friends on the show. We kind of assimilate to them.”
Savannah told her pal how “We did learn something in school that we can put to use after all.” The next day she called her parents and told them the news.
* * *
Angela has run Angela B Photography since 2010 as a portrait, commercial and special event photographer. Her clients include the Calgary Flames, Calgary Stampeders, Calgary Flames Foundation, Canadian Paralympic Committee, Calgary Marathon, Run Calgary, Southern Alberta Ronald McDonald House and the Dawgs. Angela also attended the Para Olympics in Brazil.
Taking photos are a sideline for Angela, a legal assistant at Stikeman Elliott (no relation). Before that Angela, born and raised in Calgary, worked at Dentons, as well as Burnet, Duckworth and Palmer, plus Warren Tettensor Amantea as a paralegal since 1998.
I asked a male friend what had happened when I was conked out from the time I was in sat down until I woke in the ambulance. He said “Don’t ask me, I was standing there like a zombie.”
I asked another and he replied: “I couldn’t watch -- I was in the hallway blubbering with other people.” Me? I would have been a combo, one part wide-eyed zombie, one part puddle.
We’ve read how women are stronger than men in a time of crisis. The two women did what was necessary.
“Angela and Savannah were stars on the big stage in their debuts,” said coach Lou Pote, who learned CPR and everything there is to know about the defibrillator at the first aid and CPR course Dawgs coaches took at Duvernay Fieldhouse.
Angela and Savannah were two of the calmest people in the room.
Angela said, “We will all have a unique connection for the rest of our lives, I’m forever grateful that we were there together to help. In a heartbeat I would do it again. This moment has taught me a great deal.”
And what did the night of Feb. 2 teach Angela?
“That despite already trying to practice gratitude every day that I need to ensure it is a priority every day and to treat each day as a gift, tomorrow is never guaranteed,” Angela said, after a week vacation in Mazatlán, Mex. “To be more happy, love more and to appreciate each moment as it is given. To trust your intuition.
“Its soooo incredible how everyone came together as a team, without a thought, to help and with no expectations to gain anything from it ... selflessness. That there is still so much kindness, goodness and compassion in this world. Cheesy?! I am a cheesy kind of gal.”
Said Pote: “It was everyone working together, working together and doing what they were taught … It could have been worse.”
As the ambulance sped to Calgary, people who came for a ball banquet milled around. Angela said that she “Was in a bit of shock but not in a hysterical or emotional way.”
“I couldn’t believe what had just happened and how I naturally and calmly reacted to the situation,” Angela said. “I wanted to make sure everyone was OK, so I kept asking people if they were OK. I think I asked Savannah twice if she was OK?”
* * *
In town to see his daughter Sara was my pal Donald Campbell, former coach of the Ottawa-Nepean Canadians.
I was sitting by the elevator after walking my IV around the eighth floor. The elevator opened and there was Donald with his daughter, the lovely Sara. The all-star nurses had placed a 3-by-7 ice pack over where the defibrillator had been inserted to cut down on swelling. To keep it from swaying left or right, it was inside a blue bag, held in place by green clips, with holes in the end, resembling scissors.
Donald walked off the elevator took one look at me, turned to his daughter and said “Oh my goodness, I knew about his heart, but look ... someone stabbed him in the neck with a pair of green scissors.”
The second last night in Calgary my wife and I took Angela and Savannah to diner at the Flower and Wolf inside the lobby of the Sheraton Suites Eau Claire. Pote was booked. As always, Campbell was the first to arrive at our Thank You Dinner.
Getting the final exam from Don Campbell (Ottawa, Ont.). He still has not lost a patient.
He took off his winter coat to reveal a white lab coat, the kind we’d seen doctors at Foothills wear the past 16 days. Also he had a stethoscope around his neck, otoscope, thermometer, reflex hammer and tongue depressors. He’d taken a cab on a $60 ride to a Party Place to buy the costume.
I had to look away. Laughing hurt my 10 busted ribs so much, the result of CPR. What was better? Bad ribs or the alternative?
Campbell took my temperature while the waitress took a picture. The visiting fellow from the banks of the Rideau, kept his record intact. He still has not lost a patient.
When Angela arrived I asked exactly what she did when I was conked out? Angela said that she did chest compressions.
Later, during diner I asked Savannah what she did?
“I did mouth to mouth?” Savannah said.
Donald was sipping his second and final beer. He nearly did a Danny Thomas-spit take.
I asked “On who?”
Donald asked Savannah if she had ever given mouth to mouth before and she answered “Only on a dummy.”
“Well ... same thing then,” said Campbell.
Again my ribs hurt from laughing.
At our Thank You Dinner, Angela said “You didn’t have to do all this for us; buying us dinner ... just seeing you alive, happy and going home to your family is ALL that matters. That is the greatest and most amazing gift I have ever received!” There may have been some hugs after that.
“I was there that night for a reason,” Angela said, “so much more than to take photos.”
Angela, left, and Savannah as the two life savers stand on each side of their former patient.
* * *
When USA Today began it ran small boxes with top five charts on it sports pages. Like a star player’s list of his top cities to visit, the toughest pitchers to face and guys you would want to go for dinner with. At the time, Tommy Lasorda was managing the Los Angeles Dodgers and was the funniest man in baseball. All you had to do was ask him.
Someone asked his opinion on the funniest men in baseball. He had Ellis Clary No. 1. Before retiring Clary was an infielder’s coach with the Jays and earned 1992-93 World Series rings as a special assignment scout travelling with the major-league club. He and lefty Jimmy Key were inseparable.
During his scouting days with the Minnesota Twins, Clary was one of the five amateur scouts in Mobile, Ala., on a hot Saturday morn in 1968 to see high schooler right-hander Wade Boyett, who eventually went in the second round to the St. Louis Cardinals.
With Clary that day were Cleveland Indians scout Spud Chandler, Atlee Donald of the New York Yankees, the great Buck O’Neill of the Chicago Cubs and Herb Raybourn of the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Clary suffered a heart attack. Rather than wait for an ambulance scouts loaded Clary into the back of an old station wagon with the back seats put down. The scouts gathered Clary’s radar gun, briefcase and belongings. Clary’s heart stopped beating on the ride to the hospital. He was zapped and brought back to life by doctors.
At the hospital, Clary was in fine form asking Chandler “Go check the mileage on the car ... I’ll need it for my expense account.”
Clary, of Valdosta, Ga., whispered “If I don’t make it, tell my wife I have another bank account at another bank in town.”
The next year on the anniversary that day in Mobile, Clary sent the other scouts birthday cards which read:
“Happy birthday to me, I am one year old, “
And he continued it until 2000 when he died in Valdosta.
So, going by the legendary Ellis Clary’s rules I am either seven months from my 70th birthday ... OR ... 11 months from my first.
Either way it will be fun ... thanks to life savers like Blakley, Burger, Pote and Scott.