Nelson’s Lisa Collyer was commuting along Highway 3A in the early afternoon of April 20, 2013 when she spotted an elderly couple standing on the shoulder. They seemed to be looking down into the roadside creek.
“I came around the corner and there was quite a steep embankment, and then I noticed this elderly couple,” Collyer told the Star. “A little voice in my head said: pull over.”
She climbed out of her car, leaving her dog Harper behind, and was horrified to discover an overturned car in the creek. Two men were already frantically trying to rescue the submerged driver.
“They had witnessed the car go off the road so they’d already gone down there and cut him loose from the seatbelt…They went under the water and got him on top of the vehicle. I yelled down to them ‘do you know CPR?’”
They didn’t, but she had recently taken a course as part of her employment with the Prestige. So she decided to act.
“I’d renewed my Occupational First Aid about a month before that, so I went down the embankment — gave my keys to the couple and asked him to take care of my dog — then I got into the water and they pulled me up on to the car. He was lying on the undercarriage, which was really hot because the car had been running.”
She didn’t know the man’s name at that point, but she’s since learned that he was Frank Barbosa from Burnaby. The other two rescuers continued to search underwater for other passengers while she performed CPR.
“I cleared his airway, he had a lot of mucus because he’d been underwater for a while. I did a bit of resuscitation and then after about twenty minutes I yelled up at the crowd ‘has anyone called EMS?’”
They hadn’t. The area they were in, just outside Christina Lake, didn’t have cell service.
“I did detect a faint pulse. I was pretty much yelling at him the entire time. ‘You need to stay with me’, ‘You need to breathe’, ‘I’m here’, ‘I’m here to help you’. I could see he had a wedding ring so I said ‘your family needs you’.”
Then he took a quick, jerking inhale.
“His eyes popped open. The water was rushing all around us and we’re only six inches above the water and he started to freak out a little bit. I had to throw myself on top of him to hold him down because I wasn’t sure if he had broken bones or internal injuries.”
She calmed him down, then he looked at her.
“He said ‘am I dead?’ and I said ‘no, you’re alive and you need to stay with me’.”
Once emergency crews showed up and took him away, she was left standing on the side of the road. She ended up continuing her commute, and it wasn’t until days later that authorities tried to contact her — ultimately recommending her for a commanding officer’s commendation award.
Collyer has also received a Governor General’s Award and the St. John Ambulance Award for Lifesaving. But the biggest honour was getting the chance to spend time with Barbosa months later.
“He didn’t remember any of the interaction, but he said he remembered a female presence and someone holding his hand. He thought I was an angel, so he was quite surprised to find out it was a real person who had helped him.”
She had dinner with his family.
“The most shocking thing was when he opened the front door, fully fine and looking fantastic. I had dinner with his wife and two little girls and they looked at me like I was his guardian angel.”
Barbosa gave her a necklace with a guardian angel pendant on it. Reflecting on it, Collyer said helping is just in her nature.
“That’s just the kind of person I am. If I can help, I will help. I won’t even hesitate.”