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A new friend and a life saved

John Harpell (right) holds his St. John Ambulance Silver Life-saving Award for saving Robert John Foster's life (left)  Photo by John R. Moodie. [1]

John Harpell (right) holds his St. John Ambulance Silver Life-saving Award for saving Robert John Foster’s life (left). Photo by John R. Moodie.

By John Moodie [2]

BELLEVILLE – The day after John Harpell received his first-aid recertification, his skills were put to the ultimate test.

He saved a man’s life.

How he came to save Robert John Foster’s life is a story in itself.

Harpell was commended at Belleville council on Monday for what he did this past summer.

Harpell and his wife were shopping at Staples when he came across Foster, the former police chief in Stirling for 10 years.

Foster, who goes by “Jack,” was having difficulty deciding on a printer. Harpell and his wife offered their assistance.

“We met at Staples. He was looking for a printer. We suggested a printer that prints CD’s. Jack liked the idea, so he bought one,” said Harpell.

Harpell, a shop teacher at Moira Secondary School, gave Foster his number and told Foster to call him if he had any trouble with the printer.

When Foster got home, he did have trouble getting the printer to work. So he called Harpell who came over to show Foster how to install it.

“We went to his house. There was a problem with the printer so we took it back to Staples and got another one,” said Harpell.

In appreciation for all Harpell had done, Foster insisted on taking him and his wife out for lunch.

On July 17Harpell and his wife were dining with Foster at Belleville’s Swiss Chalet. Foster ordered a big plate of ribs.

Partway into the meal, Harpell noticed Foster was having difficulty breathing. A piece of gristle had become lodged in Foster’s throat.

“It wouldn’t go down, it wouldn’t come back up,” said Foster. “I was gasping for air.”

Harpell said at that point he knew something wasn’t right. Coffee was coming out of Foster’s nose. He took Foster to the washroom and asked if he could help him with first aid.

“At first John thought he may hurt me, but I knew I was on my way out. I said just do it!” said Foster.

Harpell and his wife are foster parents and he is required to renew his first aid certification every four years. He had only completed the training with St. John Ambulance [3] the day before.

“You take training and you think maybe I will never have to use it,” said Harpell.

With the training fresh in Harpell’s mind he applied the Heimlich manoeuvre [4].

“This guy’s strong,” said Foster “And did he ever go.”

“I felt confident that I know what I was doing and what I needed to do,” said Harpell “If I had not had that training the day before I would have questioned my ability.”

Harpell partially cleared the blockage in Foster’s throat then asked the manager of the restaurant to call an ambulance. Foster was rushed to the hospital where he was sedated and his blockage cleared.

“I am a great believer things happen for a reason. My reasoning at this stage of the game— I call it divine intervention,” said Foster. “This was a case of divine intervention. No question about it. I have come to a conclusion I have an angel on my shoulder.”

On Monday night, Harpell was commended at Belleville council for his quick actions and use of first aid in saving Foster’s life.

Harpell was presented with the Silver Life-saving Award  — given to those who have saved or attempted to save a life by applying knowledge of first aid.

He said the recognition from St. John Ambulance was a honour but he was more honoured to have had the opportunity to have met Foster.

“The fact I got to meet Jack under those circumstances,” said Harpell. “We have become good friends.”

The friends now talk weekly.

“Of course we have become good friends,” says Foster.

When asked what they’ll do the next time they get together, Foster said, “I still need help setting up my machine.”