One Woman Who’s Always Ready to Assist
By Harman S. Pandher
The first week of September signifies the start of another school year. And after two months of trying to keep kids busy, the arrival of the back-to-school season feels like a lifesaver for many adults.
But for Surrey School District Educational Assistant Shamseeda Ali, the start of September inevitably brings her back to the time when she really did save a life.
It was September 8, 2010 when Shamseeda and her family were attending Eid-ul Fitr celebrations at a home in Surrey. Amongst the guests was 63-year-old California resident, Anwar Ali. Shamseeda, Anwar and the other guests ate dinner together and chatted.
What transpired next was literally a matter of life and death.
Anwar suddenly fell backwards in his chair. Another guest was luckily able to grasp him as he fell. Someone suggested that Anwar had a stroke. But Shamseeda saw the signs of a heart attack – gasping for air and loss of consciousness – something she had witnessed with her own father, a heart patient, who had his first heart attack at age 45.
Amidst the chaos and confusion at the dinner party, Shamseeda took charge.
“I received my CPR training from St. John Ambulance in 2003 while I was completing my Delta Teacher Assistant Certificate,” says Shamseeda, who is currently an Educational Assistant at Beaver Creek Elementary in Surrey.
With the assistance of her husband, Shahadat, who tilted Anwar’s head back and lifted his chin, and her sister-in-law, Sabra Afzal Khan, who checked his pulse, Shamseeda performed CPR until the paramedics arrived. Anwar was taken to Royal Columbian Hospital where he was in an induced coma for six days.
“If anything had happened to him, I’d never forgive myself. I prayed every day for him to live,” remembers Shamseeda. In the meantime, Anwar’s family arrived from the U.S. to be at his bedside. Ten days after his heart attack, he was flown back to Stockton, California by air-ambulance.
Shamseeda recalls the family’s gratitude. “They came to my home to thank me for saving Anwar’s life. For me, it was no big deal. I would do it again in a heartbeat!” Shamseeda and Anwar did reconnect eventually. “I have no recollection of anything,” Anwar told her. “But thank you for saving my life!”
What makes Shamseeda’s personal story even more amazing is that she was also involved in two other life-saving situations in Surrey, where she’s been living since 1995 after having immigrated to Canada from Fiji in 1991.
“A year after my CPR certification in 2003, I was visiting family in Surrey and a three-year-old girl was choking on some hard candy. Everyone there got into a panic but I immediately put her face down on my lap and patted her back and the candy dropped out of her mouth.”
In 2014, Shamseeda was driving on 126th Street when an elderly man in an SUV in front of her made a right turn onto 72ndAvenue. A Kwantlen Polytechnic University student stepped off of the curb at that very moment and he fell. His foot got stuck underneath the right front tire of the SUV.
“The student was screaming but the driver didn’t see him,” recounts Shamseeda. “I jumped out of my van and ran out and banged on the window of the SUV and told him to stop. I screamed out for someone to call 911 and by then a lot of people had gathered around to help.”
So to what does Shamseeda attribute her ability to rise to the occasion in such emergencies?
“I’m always vigilant about my surroundings and other people. You never know who’ll need you!”
Shamseeda has a long history of helping others in many ways. As an Educational Assistant, Shamseeda has been working with students with special needs for the past 13 years (I’ve gotten to know her well as a colleague in my time as a teacher at Beaver Creek Elementary). In 2012, Shamseeda, along with her fellow directors on the Canadian Society of Fiji Muslims, was awarded a certificate for excellent service to her community by MLA Sue Hammell. And for the past two years, she has been doing behavior intervention and life-skills for special needs children through the Ministry of Children and Families.
But Shamseeda refuses to boast about her acts of heroism.
“I have no medical background. It’s all just part of showing your humanity. That’s the way I think about it.”
Harman S. Pandher is Teacher at Surrey School District and Vice-Chair, Burnaby Board of Education