On anniversary of near-death, a celebration of life

Firefighters invited to party after saving Abbotsford woman's life

Bonnie Yntema hugs firefighter Joe Bleackley on the one-year anniversary of her cardiac arrest.

Bonnie Yntema hugs firefighter Joe Bleackley on the one-year anniversary of her cardiac arrest.

When Abbotsford firefighters arrived at the Yntema household on Sunday afternoon, they were greeted by a round of applause from a group of people gathered in the sunny backyard.

The scene was in stark contrast to the last time the men came to the central Abbotsford home exactly one year earlier, when Bonnie Yntema, 60, was clinically dead after suffering from a cardiac arrest.

Her husband Remko was administering CPR, in disbelief after waking at 4:30 a.m. to the sound of a gurgling noise coming from his wife of 30 years.

Firefighters arrived five minutes after Remko phoned 911 and immediately took over, giving Bonnie CPR.

Using an automated external defibrillator machine, the team tried to bring Bonnie’s heart back to its regular rhythm.

“It wasn’t working,” said Remko. “It was really scary.”

Remko moved to the kitchen, crying. He called their children and told them what was happening, while the team still worked on his wife, who had no history of heart problems.

“I think it was about 40 minutes but time kind of stood still,” said Remko, referring to the agonizing period it took for Bonnie to be stabilized enough to be taken to the hospital.

Remko said he was struck by the conduct he witnessed from the firefighters and paramedics.

Bonnie suffered a second cardiac arrest at the hospital and was revived once more using defibrillator paddles. She spent the next two days in a medically induced coma to prevent brain damage, with her family not sure if she would recognize them when she woke up. But she did recognize her husband, children and other loved ones the next day and began down her road to recovery.

She was later transferred to St. Paul’s hospital when a complication during the implantation of a pacemaker caused her chest to fill with blood, almost taking her life once more.

“She is one miracle child, I tell you,” said Remko.

She went on to make a full recovery, returning to work, as an accounts payable supervisor six months later – two months later than she wanted to.

Unlike Remko, Bonnie had no memory of that frightful night.

The family arranged a special visit with the four firefighters who saved Bonnie’s life in early December.

“We all gave them a big hug and said ‘thank you very much for the great work you guys do,'” said Remko.

The Yntemas remained in contact with the firefighters after the meeting, even bringing them a food platter around Christmas. And when Bonnie and Remko decided to have a party for the one-year anniversary of her cardiac arrest, they didn’t hesitate to invite their new friends.

“These guys, they were so down to business, and personal and friendly at the same. A really nice group of people,” said Remko.

The four firefighters attended a Sunday afternoon gathering at the Yntema house, this time in the middle of the day, rather than the wee hours of the morning, with fire chief Don Beer and a few dozen of the couple’s friends and family.

Two of the firefighters came with their wives and kids and the other two, who were on shift, came in their fire engine.

“It was great, excellent,” said Remko, who said the opportunity to thank the firefighters once more was special.

The men left the property on Sunday in the same way they arrived – to a round of applause.