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Physician recognized for water rescue

The day began with a spur-of-the-moment to decision to visit Sandbanks Provincial Park in Prince Edward County. On August 3, 2014, Dr. Thomas Ungar, Chief of Psychiatry at North York General Hospital (NYGH) and his wife Jodi Ungar figured a quick dip in the lake and then lunch at a local winery would make for a perfect Sunday.

“We'd never been to the area and we'd pretty much always wanted to visit its wonderful wineries,” Dr. Ungar remembers. “Needless to say, it didn't go completely as planned.”

After 15 minutes of walking along the dunes, Dr. Ungar and his wife heard screams coming from the water. He saw splashing and a crowd of onlookers watching two rescuers attempting to pull two women from the water. Immediately realizing the seriousness of the situation, Dr. Ungar sped down the dune to help pull the women from the water and found both unconscious; one did not appear to have any signs of life.

“There was no pulse and she wasn't breathing,” says Dr. Ungar. “The situation seemed very dire.”

Dr. Thomas Ungar, Chief of Psychiatry and Medical Director, Mental Health Program at NYGH, was honoured in 2015 for his life-saving efforts by both the Ontario Provincial Police and St. John's Ambulance.
Dr. Thomas Ungar, Chief of Psychiatry and Medical Director, Mental Health Program at NYGH, was honoured in 2015 for his life-saving efforts by both the Ontario Provincial Police and St. John's Ambulance.

While his wife called 911, Dr. Ungar identified himself as a physician and began CPR with chest compressions. To his relief, after about 10 minutes the woman began to respond with very shallow, laboured breaths. “I think we were very lucky that day,” Dr. Ungar says.

Once the woman started coming to, Dr. Ungar positioned her on her side to avoid aspirating in case she vomited. He then went to check on the second woman, who was more responsive and also positioned on her side by a nurse who was attending to her.

While treating the two women, the team of rescuers noticed another cause for alarm: a third person – a male – lying on his back in apparent distress. “He appeared to be having chest pains, apparently due to the stress of the situation,” Dr. Ungar says. “By this time, the paramedics had arrived and started to assist him. By all accounts, the situation was very chaotic but all the rescuers were so focused on their respective roles. Everyone was in the zone.”

For his life-saving efforts, Dr. Ungar was honouredin 2015by both the Ontario Provincial Police with a Commissioner's Citation for Lifesaving and a St. John's Ambulance Life-saving Award. While he is appreciative, Dr. Ungar doesn't consider his actions heroic.

“Yes, I think it was an unusual situation, but I don't think my response was unusual for a medical professional,”he says. “As a psychiatrist, I am a trained medical professional who has the expertise to administer this type of treatment. We simply do what is required to the best of our ability to save lives. This is, in essence, what we do at the hospital each and every day.”

5 tips to be water smart and safe
Always watch children around water.

Every year, many avoidable accidents happen in the water. Dr. Kuldeep Sidhu, Chief of Emergency Medicine at North York General Hospital, offers these five key safety tips:

  1. Always watch children around water. It's a tip that cannot be stressed enough, according to Dr. Sidhu. Drowning is one of the leading causes of unintentional deaths for children. “Life jackets should be worn at all times by both children and non-swimmers alike,” he says.
  2. Take a course. The Canadian Red Cross offers many programs in swimming skills and water safety. “You can never be too prepared,” Dr. Sidhu says. “Now is the perfect time to learn or refresh your life-saving skills.”
  3. Never dive head first into unknown water. It's tempting to dive in on a hot day, but it's very easy to misjudge water depth. “Always go slow at first, even if someone says it's okay to dive in,” says Dr. Sidhu. “You have to get to know the water.”
  4. Shallow isn't always safer. Strong currents can sweep away even the most sure-footed. "I don't recommend traversing through moving water, even if it looks relatively calm," Dr. Sidhu says. "You never know where there is a strong current."
  5. Alcohol and water don't mix. “Drinking deadens your physical and mental capabilities,” says Dr. Sidhu. “While it may seem obvious, every year people lose their lives because they got drunk and made poor decisions.”
July 6, 2016

This article first appeared in the July-August 2016 issue of The Pulse, North York General Hospital's community newsletter. Subscribe to receive 10 issues per year.

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