July 8, 2020

New recruit to Cumming School of Medicine’s Libin Cardiovascular Institute saves man’s life — twice

Chance encounter on popular hiking trail leads to life-saving CPR and later, bypass surgery

Dr. Corey Adams, MD, returned to the University of Calgary on April 1 as a new recruit to the Cumming School of Medicine’s (CSM) Libin Cardiovascular Institute. He earned a master’s degree in ‘04 in kinesiology at UCalgary, later discovering his passion for heart surgery. He could not resist the offer to combine his passions; perform surgery, conduct research and teach, in a city that holds many fond memories for him.  

“After five enjoyable years working in St. John’s, N.L., my wife and I decided to look for new personal and professional challenges. With two young children, her gynecology practice, and my cardiac surgery practice I was really looking for a location that provided long-term family stability and was committed to professional excellence and growth,” says Adams, a clinical associate professor in the Department of Cardiac Sciences at the CSM.

  • Photo above: Corey Adams checks up on Darrell Parker, who underwent five heart bypass procedures. Shirley Parker looks on. Photo by Blain Fairbairn, Alberta Health Services

“The Libin Institute has an outstanding reputation, and having known several members of the surgical division before, it’s exciting to come back to Calgary. Our boys love the sunshine and outdoor adventures.”

On June 20, the family went on their first hike at Grassi Lake Trail, near Canmore. As they were driving away from the trail head, traffic stopped, and someone yelled, “A man is unconscious, and turning blue”. Adams and his wife, Jennifer, jumped out of the vehicle to see if they could help.

Just off the trail lay Darrell Parker, who was also on a hike with his family, unconscious after having a heart attack. Another hiker had just started cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). The Adamses assisted until firefighters and paramedics arrived.  

Darrell and Shirley Parker on Grassi Lake Trail, just before his heart attack.

Darrell and Shirley Parker on Grassi Lake Trail, just before his heart attack.

“Collectively, several of us began a co-ordinated resuscitation. As a cardiac surgeon I work daily with teams who are experts at reviving patients; however, it was truly special to work in the field with paramedics, firemen, and my wife to respond to this emergency,” says Adams.

“I really feel the collective teamwork of this group saved Darrell’s life. It’s an example of knowing the importance of CPR, and remaining calm.”

The ambulance set off for the Canmore General Hospital; however, Adams's connection to the Parker family would not end there. Due to severe blockages in his heart, doctors transferred him to the Foothills Medical Centre (FMC) for surgery. The FMC team learned that Adams had been the one who performed CPR and thought who better to perform the operation than the doctor who had already saved the 60-year-old’s life.  

“We couldn’t believe our luck. The same doctor who happened to be on the trail that day at the same time Darrell had his heart attack was also going to be our surgeon,” says Shirley Parker, Darrell’s wife. “It was amazing.”

The Adams family, from left, Benjamin, Jennifer, Matthew and Corey enjoying the hike.

The Adams family, from left, Benjamin, Jennifer, Matthew and Corey enjoying the hike.

The Parkers had travelled to Canmore from Paradise Hill, Sask., just across the Alberta border, for a hiking trip with their son, Travis, and his wife, Seanna.

“I work in the oilfield, I’m very active and have always considered myself very healthy. I had no idea what poor condition my heart was in,” says Parker, after having five bypasses to improve blood flow to his heart, nine days after his heart attack.

This experience has really shown me how important it is for people to learn CPR. I realize I had an expert start my heart beating again, but not everyone is going to have a heart surgeon nearby.

According to Heart and Stroke, there are nearly 60,000 hospitalizations a year for heart attack in Canada.

“Without question this event will be a highlight of my career. As health-care members, we often take some of the things we do as just part of the job. But after talking with Darrell and his family, it stresses the important role that we can make in people's lives,” says Adams.

Parker is looking forward to returning to work in about three months. He plans to start walking regularly, and maybe even go hiking again.

Meanwhile, Adams says his family is looking forward to many more trips to the mountains — but it is likely going to be their very first Alberta hike, at Grassi Lakes Trail, that is talked about and remembered the longest.