Survivors thank lucky STARS

Two Red Deer residents are telling their survival stories in the 2012 STARS Air Ambulance calendar on sale now to raise money and awareness for STARS.

Jeff Pennington

Jeff Pennington

Two Red Deer residents are telling their survival stories in the 2012 STARS Air Ambulance calendar on sale now to raise money and awareness for STARS.

Thanks to help from STARS, heart attack survivor Jeff Pennington was healthy enough to participate in seven triathlons and two runs this year.

“I was on the podium in my age group five times so far in races this year. And I’m not done yet,” said Pennington, 54, who plans to participate in two or three more races before the end of the year.

In 2009 while training on the May long weekend, Pennington rode his mountain bike almost 350 km in two days and was in his vehicle on his way home when doctors say a piece of plaque in his arteries broke off, causing 100 per cent blockage.

“There is no warning.

“You just drop dead,” said Pennington, who was clinically dead for 15 minutes while his girlfriend at the time performed CPR until EMS arrived and took him to Canmore Hospital.

STARS transported Pennington to Foothills Medical Centre in Calgary in serious condition with little chance of survival.

He was in a coma for a week.

Pennington, service operations manager for Communications Group, was back on a bike for therapy about a month later and started running after three months.

“It’s quite amazing the people (STARS) has working for them.

“Their motto is — it’s about the patient — and from what I’ve seen, it really is.”

Trevor Sopracolle, 31, also relied on STARS after he fell 7.5 metres from a snubbing basket in 2002 and was impaled by a steel bar while working on a rig about an hour away from Rocky Mountain House.

The bar pierced his shoulder about 15 cm, he punctured a lung, broke a few ribs, and the tip of his nose was partially torn off.

“I remember my knees coming around and smoking myself in the face,” said Sopracolle, who was conscious while waiting for STARS.

“Everyone was taking turns holdin my head because I was in such a bad position.

“We had to wait for the chopper, then everyone kind of lifted me at once right off it.”

Sopracolle had to retrain his arm to move, went back to work and now operates his own company, Goliath Snubbing Ltd.

His fall changed safety standards in snubbing. Fall-arrest equipment is now mandatory.

“We never had fall arrests for that kind of work back then. After I fell, it changed the whole industry.”

He recently met up with STARS staff who assisted during his accident.

STARS is “a big part of the patch,” said Sopracolle, who always has a STARS calendar up at work.

Brock Balog, provincial manager for STARS calendar campaign, said the annual fundraising effort raised over $3.5 million last year through the sale of 105,000 calendars and from donations during the door-to-door campaign.

Door knocking kicks into high gear over the next two months throughout Alberta and eastern British Columbia.

Balog said so far, sales are up by about 12 per cent. People know about and want to support STARS.

“It’s sort of the Kevin Bacon syndrome. You go to the door and everybody has a story about STARS so it’s pretty fun and rewarding,” Balog said.

In 2010, STARS flew 1,453 missions, carrying critically ill or injured patients.

Calendars are $30 each. To order, call 1-877-778-8288.

szielinski@bprda.wpengine.com