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Two New West residents honoured for their bravery by the Governor General of Canada

New Westminster residents Mark Tuura and Dr. Emilie Stevens share their stories of courage — those that made them deserving of one of Canada’s most prestigious civilian honour, the Decoration for Bravery, this year.

On Oct. 18, 2015, Mark Oscar Tuura, a resident of New Westminster, found himself in a situation that one can prepare little for.

“I was down at the Pier Park — there used to be a parking lot where you could park right at the front; it's all the park now. But I was just there having a coffee in my truck, and a guy came up to me and said, ‘Hey, you got a rope?’” recalled Tuura.

“I said, ‘Why?’ And he said, ‘Well, there's a guy on the (Fraser) river there yelling for help.' I could go in there, but I can't swim,'” added Tuura. 

Without wasting a minute, Tuura told the guy to call the New Westminster Fire Department, while he grabbed the rope, went down the dock, swam out into the river and dragged the “elderly gentleman” to the bank — and eventually, with the help of fire department, out of the water to safety.  

Tuura said it was an “impulse action.” 

Did he ever fear for his own life? “You don't think about that,” he said. 

Tuura had taken the lifeguard training at the Canada Games Pool when he was 25, and he served with Burnaby Firefighters for 30 years (from 1981 to 2010). “The training you get at the fire department helps in all walks of life. Like the First Aid training and everything,” he said.

In that situation, he recalled, “it (the training) all sort of kicked in."

"You're just doing it. You don't even think about it.”

Tuura was one among 40 Canadians who were recognized by the Governor General of Canada at the 50th Decorations of Bravery ceremony held in Rideau Hall, Ottawa, on Sept. 7, 2022.

Recounting the event, Tuura said, “It's kind of special going to Ottawa, getting it (the award) from the Governor General Mary Simon… going to Rideau Hall, that's really a treat.”

At the ceremony, it so happened that Tuura sat next to another New West resident, Dr Emilie Stevens, who also received the award at the ceremony. “It was kind of neat since we both were from New West. Alphabetically we lined up together,” he said. 

Dr. Stevens was honoured at the ceremony for saving a woman from committing suicide, back in 2017 — an event which, she said, gave her "a perspective on mental health."

On June 23, 2017, Stevens, who was then working at St Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver, stopped a woman in her 20s from jumping off the Granville Street Bridge.

She said, “I was walking across the bridge, and I noticed a woman who was actually sitting on the ground, on the sidewalk with her back to the bridge railing. I thought that was a bit unusual.”

“But everybody walking with me kind of walked past her. I did, too, but I got a bit further along, and it just didn't seem right.”

When Stevens turned back to look at the woman, she was standing with her feet on the bridge railing. “At that point, I realized that she was probably planning on committing suicide. So I walked back towards her. Honestly, I can't really remember what I said, but I think I said something along the lines of: 'Are you okay? Are you thinking of hurting yourself today?'”

From the conversation, Stevens gathered that the woman had left the psychiatry ward of the Vancouver General Hospital against medical advice, and was, in fact, planning on committing suicide. “I talked to her for a little while, and said, 'I think we can get you some help. Why don't you come with me?' But she didn't want to.”

Stevens had to sneak a call to 911 even as she held the woman’s attention. “I kind of had my phone down beside me where she couldn't see and then I would talk to them (the cops) kind of intermittently.” 

When Stevens finally heard the sirens, she felt better that help was on the way. However, that night, there was someone else matching the description of the woman Stevens was trying to save — “wearing the same colour sweatshirt, maybe like 20 feet away from us on the same side of the bridge.” 

When the woman saw the police stop at that other person, and realized that they were coming to her, she attempted to jump, Stevens recalled. 

“I grabbed her, and held on,” she said — all while screaming to the cops, “Wrong person! We're over here!”

The cops eventually pulled the woman off the railing to safety, she said.

Stevens was seven months pregnant at the time; she described herself as 5-2 and weighing 120 pounds.

“I am not that big a person,” she said.  “I guess the police were a bit shocked,” she said with a laugh. 

But Stevens didn’t think about her own life then —“It was an immediate reaction,” she said.

In hindsight, she does often wonder: “What was I thinking? I was pregnant, I could have been killed, my baby could have been killed. It was very, very plausible that something bad could happen to us even approaching the stranger on the street.” 

A year later she was given the Award of Merit by the Vancouver Police Department for her bravery, before the more recent Medal of Bravery by the Governor General. 

About the awards, Stevens said, “It is nice to get the accolades; it's nice to get the recognition for being brave.” She added, "But I think part of me still feels in some ways, like I'm getting a lot of recognition, when the reality of the whole situation was that this woman was suffering a lot." 

The experience pushed her to focus more on mental well-being in general relationships and practice, she said. Since the incident, "there have been other times now in my practice, where I have prevented people from committing suicide," she said. 

“Now, when I see patients, even though I'm an infectious disease doctor, I do ask them about their mental health, and offer them resources for it,” Stevens said.

“When you kind of make that part of your routine, sometimes you find that people really are not doing well.”