Colton Boechler looks like many kids his age. The red-headed 11-year-old wears a black hoodie, skate shoes with bright blue laces and has a retainer. But a glimpse under his sweatshirt reveals a large white bandage over the left side of his chest as he arrives in the playroom at the B.C. Children’s Hospital with a pulse oximeter hooked up to his finger.
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Last Saturday, Colton was swimming at the University of B.C. Aquatic Centre when he went into cardiac arrest. Two quick-thinking lifeguards, Jane Bellett and Aaron Stryd, began performing two-person CPR after Bellett used an automatic external defibrillator (AED). Colton survived, and five days later, on Thursday at 7:45 a.m., he had a tiny defibrillator surgically implanted in his heart to prevent the same thing from happening again.
Asked how he was feeling just hours after the surgery, Colton responded like a typical kid: “Um, good.”
He was tired but grateful.
“I just want to say thank you Aaron and Jane for saving my life,” he said. “And the rest of the hospital.”
“There’s a good possibility we’ll be going home tomorrow,” said Colton’s dad, Kelly Boechler. “We’re optimistic. The surgery went well this morning. He’s recovering, as always, better than expected,” the father said, thanking in particular cardiologists Dr. Derek Human and Dr. Sanjiv Gandhi — who performed Thursday’s operation — and pediatric respirologist Dr. Michael Seear.
Colton’s is a familiar face around the hospital. He’s been a volunteer there since doctors there saved his life — the first time.
In 2007, he had the flu and the virus attacked his heart. He went into cardiac arrest, and then his lungs failed. He spent 100 days in B.C. Children’s Hospital. His recovery was hailed as a miracle, but the incident left him with an arrhythmia caused by the scar tissue on his heart. He didn’t know it, but he was at risk for another heart attack.
It happened after jumping off the three-metre high dive at the UBC pool. “I was doing a 360 spin. But then I came over to the edge and I was waving to my mom,” Colton said. He doesn’t remember sinking, his panicked mom pulling him out, or the lifeguards stepping in to re-start his heart. His mother Julie does.
“I just want to thank them for the love that they gave me and the support they gave me. [Bellett] put her arms around me and said she was there for me, she loved me and would look after me,” she said.
Because of the lifeguards’ quick response and the accessible AED, there’s been no loss of heart function and Colton’s CT and MRI scans have so far come back normal. He’s been eating a little, and went for a short walk in the hospital.
And now, with the built-in defibrillator, another heart arrhythmia should correct itself immediately.
“Obviously we were not expecting this in any way, shape or form. So to have the defibrillator in the pool was just an amazing thing. If this were to happen, it’s best for it to happen in a place like that because it got immediate attention,” said Colton’s dad.
“Obviously they did a great job because the outcome was fantastic. We couldn’t ask for a better outcome.”