Dr. Nick Sparrow has a full-time job as an emergency doctor at the Kootenay Lake Hospital, but he still volunteers his time assisting emergency services. Photo: Will Johnson

Dr. Nick Sparrow flies into action

Nelson physician volunteers to back up emergency services

Nelson physician Nick Sparrow has spent the last three years volunteering his time assisting paramedics at the scenes of grisly car accidents and tragic overdoses, and he’s built up a certain amount of emotional armour.

But every now and then a particular case gets to him.

“I’m basically on call 24-7, and if I get a page and can go, I’ll go,” he told the Star, while campaigning to raise funds for the Kootenay Emergency Response Physicians Association.

“I was on scene at all of the major motor vehicles we’ve had in the last year, outside Nelson, and for the most part it doesn’t bother me. I can go to a scene like that and just get on with it.”

But there was one particular call — he can’t specify which one due to confidentiality — that ended up having a huge emotional impact, in no small part because he personally knew the people involved.

That happens in a small town like Nelson.

“That one case took a big toll on me. It was the first time I’d cried about a case in years. They’re people in your community, you have a direct link with them. I’ve now had a direct link with a lot of people in Nelson who have had very tragic situations happen to them.”

‘It’s just in my blood’

It’s not like Sparrow isn’t busy.

He’s a full-time emergency doctor at Kooteny Lake Hospital, he’s raising six kids with his wife, and every summer he helps the medical team out at the Shambhala Music Festival in Salmo.

But for some reason he also feels the urge to volunteer his own time, his own gear and his own vehicle on the off-chance his expertise ends up being the difference between life and death at an accident scene.

He did this for three years on the Sunshine Coast before moving here, but it was actually way back when he was living in the U.K. that the idea was initially born. In 2003, he was a newly minted doctor when he witnessed a car crash and rushed to help.

“I realized that as a doctor, though I was trained in the hospital I wasn’t so useful in the pre-hospital, so that started my interest in wanting to assist at roadside 9-1-1 calls,” he said.

There was a charity that had been putting British physicians in the field for over 40 years, but when he moved to Canada with his family he realized no such thing existed here. He saw an opportunity to help people, and figured nobody else was going to step up if he didn’t.

Reflecting back, he thinks this vocation was born when his sister was saved from drowning during a garden party when he was a kid.

“She was face down, not breathing and blue, then this guy pulled her up and saved her life. It’s only since I’ve been in Nelson I’ve started wondering ‘where is this innate urge coming from?’ and I think that was part of it, seeing that. But I also think it’s just in my blood.”

No advanced life support paramedics in Nelson

There are currently no advanced life support paramedics operating in the Nelson area unless they’re brought in by helicopter — Sparrow thinks this should be remedied — and in the meantime he’s the only one offering medical interventions above and beyond what the police and ambulance are capable of offering.

“There’s a whole other level I bring to the scene. I can intubate someone in the field, give them an anesthetic and paralyze them, then take over their breathing,” he said.

“I can stop seizures with the drugs I carry, I can give analgesia for broken limbs, I can put a hole in the side of their chest if they need major intervention.”

Lately he’s been dealing with a lot of overdoses, assisting firefighters and police officers as the fentanyl crisis continues to evolve.

“I’ve responded to 18 of the most serious drug overdoses, and I’ve been to most of the fatal overdoses where there’s actually resuscitation going on — and we’ve brought many people back from fentanyl overdoses,” he said.

“The problem is the fentanyl is so strong, what we’re seeing, is the overdoses I get called to need six to eight Narcan pens to reverse it.”

He thinks education is key to addressing fentanyl, and he’s concerned that residents with a false sense of security will delay calling the ambulance until it’s too late because they believe they have the ability to reverse the effects with naloxone.

“The emergency services are fairly ramped up, which is great, but I think the important part now is getting the information out to people how deadly fentanyl is. I have a simple and not necessarily popular opinion: just don’t do drugs. Don’t even go there. I’ve seen people younger than me die, and it’s just not worth it.”

‘I can’t get there on lights and sirens’

When Sparrow receives a page, he often throws on his gear overtop of his pyjamas and then races across town in his personal truck, which isn’t a designated 9-1-1 vehicle.

“I can’t get there on lights and sirens,” he said.

“It’s challenging because I’m a volunteer and I’m fairly unique in the province, so that’s ultimately something I’d love the community to get behind.”

The kit he brings and the supplies he carries were purchased out of his own pocket, and if possible he’d like to get some newer and higher-end gear.

“Like an ultrasound, say you fall off your motorcycle, I could use that on scene to see if your liver is bleeding, do that all on the roadside. There’s quite a few things I could help with if I have the right stuff.”

According to him, he doesn’t have a political agenda.

“I just want to get out there, save lives and help the most critically ill and injured people in our community.”

The Kootenay Emergency Response Physicians Association will host an open house on Oct. 26 from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Prestige Lakeside Resort. For more information visit facebook.com/KERPAkoots.

 

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