Mary Walters celebrated her 65th birthday this Friday, Aug. 30 with a bit more gusto this year. Walters, a paddler with the Kootenay Rhythm Dragons in Nelson, a breast cancer dragon boat team, was on her way home from the BC Seniors Games when she was stung and experienced her first-time serious reaction to a sting.
The sting occurred while Walters and her friend were waiting for the ferry, but the reaction took place about half way across the water.
“I never had a reaction to a bee sting or wasp sting before,” Walters told the Arrow Lakes News, “never anything like that before.
“It went from ‘oh gosh something’s wrong’ to unconscious in minutes.”
Walters’ travel mate quickly gave her an antihistamine pill, but the reaction to the sting was swift, and the paddler’s health rapidly took a turn for the worse, causing her to lose consciousness.
Noticing her distress, ferry staff quickly gave her first aid, and monitored her vitals. Even though she was able to breathe, Walters’ blood pressure dropped to an alarming level. Mate Janet Fowlie and terminal attendant Joey Lewis stayed with her and treated her while other crew members called the ambulance and communicated to the other passengers what the situation was. Captain James Dunne, deck hand Steve Krywa and oiler Chad Davidson all lent a hand ensuring Walters got to the Nakusp ambulance which drove her to the Arrow Lakes Hospital. Jim Carachelo, a former paramedic coming on to shift on the Shelter Bay ferry said that Fowlie and Lewis had the situation well in hand.
“The medical assistance that was rendered was as good as any I have seen provided without advanced life support,” said Carachelo in a memo to Waterbridge Ferries Regional Manager Dave Holm.
“It turned out we had a bunch of good people on there,” said Holm, perhaps understating the case. All crew have marine basic first aid certification at minimum, with engineers and captains required to have marine advanced first aid. The ferries also carry an AED (an automated external defibrillator used for cardiac arrest) and oxygen on board.
“You’d be surprised,” said Holm, “we get all kind of weird and wonderful things happen…Rollovers, traffic accidents between ferry and Nakusp or Revelstoke.” Ferry staff often lend a hand if someone in a bad situation near the ferry is in need of help.
“The ferry staff were just amazing,” said Walters, who has very few memories of her own of their care, but survived to hear about what they had done. “I remember trying to step out of my car, I recall being taken into the hospital.”
On her way to a wedding the next day to be part of honour guard, Walters wouldn’t let them cut her shirt. A couple of adrenaline shots and lots of care later (people on the same ferry came by the hospital to see if she was okay), the lucky Dragon was released to go home at six that night. Now, Walters carry two EpiPens with her at all times, including out on the dragon boat.
This year, she is celebrating her 65th birthday less than a week after the could-be tragedy was averted, making the milestone all the more significant.
“I’m celebrating my birthday with a renewed sense of gratitude and well-being,” said Mary Walters, the dragon who was saved by a ferry’s care.