A whole bunch, if not 1000’s, of individuals in British Columbia are alive and effectively at present due to Ryan Vena, his finest good friend says, as family members mourn the demise of a person who took it upon himself to reply to overdoses within the Downtown Eastside years earlier than he grew to become a paramedic.
In 2016, Vena based the volunteer-run Road Saviours Outreach Society (SSOS) as he navigated his personal restoration from heroin habit, setting out with a workforce of volunteers armed with naloxone to reverse drug poisonings and save lives amongst individuals utilizing alone within the alleys of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside neighbourhood.
The 42-year-old with a “bigger than life,” “out of this world” persona died in his sleep on June 14, simply sooner or later earlier than he was supposed to start a therapy program for PTSD he was struggling on account of his work as a paramedic, in response to Elijah Blezard, his finest good friend of 30 years.
The reason for his demise continues to be unknown, Blezard mentioned.
“It’s a tragedy and it’s devastating and it’s left an enormous gap locally,” Blezard advised CBC Information.
As quickly as Vena realized fentanyl was killing his mates in early 2016, he acquired CPR and First Help-certified, and commenced recruiting volunteers and soliciting donations for harm-reduction provides, blankets, heat garments, meals and private provides to offer out.
“Ryan was bringing whoever he might deliver with him all the way down to the Downtown Eastside to assist attempt to save his mates,” mentioned Blezard.
The group had been Vena’s house for a number of years in his late teenagers and early maturity within the thick of his habit. Vena additionally frolicked in jail for crimes to assist pay for his behavior, in response to court docket information.
“Individuals down there are people too, and that’s what will get forgotten rather a lot,” Vena mentioned in an animated speech at a SSOS fundraiser in 2018, including the non-profit workforce was within the Downtown Eastside “twice every week, religiously, handing out meals, hugs and love and bringing individuals again from the lifeless typically.”
“Typically that’s all it takes … a smile, a hug, a ‘hiya.’”
SSOS additionally helps individuals entry housing and employment helps, fill out earnings and incapacity help purposes, and get referrals to therapy and detox applications.
Vena had studied social work, and he grew to become a paramedic in 2019. All of the whereas, he was offering free naloxone trainings to the general public and companies to show others to save lots of lives, too.
However Vena’s sense of responsibility by no means eclipsed his penchant for dangers and journey, mentioned Blezard. He was an avid fisherman, cherished to DJ, and typically dressed up in quirky costumes to volunteer as an on-site medic at a number of music festivals throughout B.C.
“That simply speaks to Ryan’s nature. It didn’t matter who you had been, the place you had been, what you had been,” mentioned Blezard. “He could be there to assist each time doable.”
Extra help wanted for paramedics, says union
The circumstances of Vena’s demise spotlight the heavy burden of trauma and psychological well being challenges paramedics face throughout B.C., mentioned Blezard and Ambulance Paramedics of B.C., Vena’s union.
Vena cherished his work, however the disturbing calls he responded to throughout B.C. drove him to take depart from work on account of PTSD beginning in early 2022.
He wasn’t in a position to entry adequate help or return to work earlier than his demise, Blezard mentioned.
The overlapping poisonous drug disaster, 2021 warmth dome and different excessive warmth occasions, in addition to local weather disasters and staffing shortages have taken a toll on paramedics, mentioned Ambulance Paramedics of B.C. president Troy Clifford.
About 30 per cent of paramedics are coping with psychological accidents, Clifford mentioned, and WorkSafeBC knowledge reveals that’s the best proportion of any health-care or first responder career in B.C.
Whereas helps have improved in recent times, there’s nonetheless extra work to be executed, Clifford mentioned.
“Anytime we lose a member or any person goes off with PTSD or has a office harm and psychological harm that’s unacceptable,” he added.
CBC has reached out to B.C. Emergency Well being Providers for remark.
Blezard hopes helps for paramedics can be improved and Vena’s legacy will reside on in every of the individuals whose lives he helped save.
“He didn’t save tons of of lives. Ryan saved 1000’s of lives, from shut private mates, to getting individuals into restoration,” mentioned Blezard.