Firefighters who help together, stick together.
Red Deer firefighter medic Ben Barthel, who is better known as Big Ben or Big Benny, is recovering after he was rushed to hospital Oct. 1 during a cardiac emergency.
Since being back home around late October, he’s been recovering, relearning the English language and taking speech therapy sessions.
During the unexpected aortic arch dissection, Barthel was taken in for an emergency 11-hour surgery. During this time, the father and grandfather was convinced he wouldn’t make it, given he also has secondary conditions that added to the complications.
“I’m already saying goodbye to people, ‘and look after my kids, and look after so and so, and God help so and so,’” he recalled with a laugh.
“I’m obviously emotional, because I know this is not lucky to survive… but there were so many paramedics in the trauma room (at the Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre) and they’re helping me out,” he said, adding they took him to Calgary for the surgery.
“In a snowstorm too, and STARS can’t fly because of the weather.”
Thankfully, the surgery was successful, however, the Red Deerian suffered a stroke during the procedure.
For the most part, Barthel was unconscious while experts worked on him at Calgary’s Foothills Medical Centre. Once he was awake, he heard stories about people fundraising for him, coming to the hospital to see him, and all in all, wanting to be there for him.
Referring to a colleague, Barthel said, “she knows more about my body than I do. There were tons and tons of my colleagues (at the hospital).”
“More than Foothills (Medical Centre) wanted… much more,” he said with a chuckle.
He credits Red Deer Emergency Services for helping him “stay alive,” while shipping him to Foothills and for all the help provided by Aspire Special Needs Resource Centre.
“So many people, too many people… I can’t form the right words to express the thanks, it’s amazing to me.”
The 42-year-old noted the support has also been pouring in from Edmonton and Calgary fire services, including retired and current firefighters.
“I have untold respect for my fire department and those in Edmonton and Calgary.
“If they’re doing this for me, they’re doing this for everybody,” he said, commending the jobs front-line workers do every day to help their communities.
The help and support has continued even after Barthel came back to his Red Deer home.
Barthel said one morning, he was surprised to see Red Deer Fire Chief Ken McMullen clearing the recovering man’s sidewalk.
“I hear shovelling, and I look out, so the chief and the platoon chief are shovelling my walk, so I say ‘I can do this, and they say ‘no you can’t, you don’t have doctor’s approval.’”
In another instance, firefighters from Calgary cooked Barthel a Thanksgiving dinner for his family: his mom, children and grandchildren.
A friend started a GoFundMe page, to help with his recovery. The community came together to raise close to $30,000. In another instance, a Red Deer supermarket where the firefighter shops, handed him a cheque of close to $7,000.