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Would-be doc gets head-start on saving lives

James Richardson, centre, stands with members of the Whatcom County Fire District who helped save his life on the Canada Day weekend.  - SUBMITTED PHOTO
James Richardson, centre, stands with members of the Whatcom County Fire District who helped save his life on the Canada Day weekend.
— image credit: SUBMITTED PHOTO

When Igor Tatarnikov applies to medical school next year, he can count on at least one family to provide a glowing reference letter.

The 20-year-old Coquitlam man was hanging out with friends at a beach house in Point Roberts for the Canada Day weekend when one member of the group, James Richardson, suddenly collapsed.

Richardson, who also lives in Coquitlam, suffers from Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome, a disorder that can cause sudden cardiac death in a small percentage of sufferers.

But Tatarnikov acted quickly and put into practice his CPR training to revive Richardson, who he met for the first time that weekend.

“He just collapsed on the stairwell and we checked if he was breathing,” said the UBC pre-med student. “We didn’t feel a pulse so I just kind of jumped in there and did CPR.”

With the help of Darren Witherspoon, who was also at the cabin, the pair were able to keep Tatarnikov alive until paramedics showed up.

“It is just a surreal feeling,” Tatarnikov said. “You don’t realize it. I just did what I knew and I am happy it all worked out.”

Richardson, who was in critical condition, was first taken to a hospital in Delta before being transported to Royal Columbian Hospital in New Westminster. There, he was put into an induced coma and surgery was done to repair his heart.

Eight days later, Richardson was sent home, where he has been recovering nicely — he has even been able to go on a few hikes as he tries to regain his strength.

Rose Richardson, James’ mom, said that the doctors always knew that her son suffered from WPW but they were reticent to do surgery because the nodes around his heart were too close together.

After his recent cardiac arrest, however, they performed the surgery and Rose has been told that her son will no longer be in danger of the kind of episode he suffered in Point Roberts.

“I think I will worry for the rest of my life but the doctors say he should be good,” she said. “They assured me that his heart is fixed.”

On Monday, she and James visited the paramedics and firefighters in Point Roberts who responded to the call to thank them for their life-saving efforts.

She has also thanked Tatarnikov and has little doubt that his early administration of CPR was the difference between life and death for James.

“Igor saved my son’s life,” she said.

Due to retrograde amnesia resulting from the induced coma, the younger Richardson has little recollection of the events that transpired on the Canada Day weekend. He doesn’t even remember what the beach house he stayed in looked like and had to re-introduce himself to Tatarnikov, when the pair met in the hospital after the incident.

“It was pretty emotional,” James Richardson said of the meeting. “I was speechless. I couldn’t say anything to him. He saved my life and I don’t even know the guy.”

gmckenna@tricitynews.com

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