Runner who went into anaphylactic shock eager to find Good Samaritans who saved him

An Edmonton man who went into anaphylactic shock during an evening run through the city’s river valley is searching for the strangers who helped save him.

David Poretti credits a couple of fellow Edmontonians with saving his life when he suffered a severe allergic reaction that left him gasping for breath and fading in and out of consciousness.

He hopes the Good Samaritans come forward so he can thank them.

“I was so unlucky that day in the fact that I went without a phone and I didn’t really have an EpiPen,” Porretti said, adding that his luck changed when he encountered the bystanders. 

Poretti, 47, was a few minutes into a run through the McKinnon Ravine, near his home in central Edmonton, on Monday evening when he started to feel sick.

“I looked at my hands and my hands were just super red and swollen and I was like, ‘Oh, that’s weird,'” Poretti said.

“But [I thought] maybe I was overexerting myself a bit, so I started walking a little bit and then I could feel that it was starting to get really itchy.”

Then his lips started to swell. He began to worry. 

Poretti had planned to only travel eight kilometres, a short distance for the avid runner, so he had left his wallet and phone at home. 

He started to walk to the trailhead near the Victoria Oval, feeling increasingly disoriented.

That’s when a string of Good Samaritans entered the picture.

Poretti went into anaphylactic shock during a quick run on Monday, and says his vision began to go dark before a Good Samaritan offered him her EpiPen. (Emily Fitzpatrick/CBC)

Two strangers, a borrowed phone and an EpiPen

Poretti saw two cyclists and jumped in the middle of the path and waved his arms to get their attention.

“They stopped and I said, ‘Listen, I think I’m going into anaphylactic shock. Do you have a phone I can use?'”

One of the cyclists lent Poretti a phone so he could dial 911, and stayed by his side throughout the incident.

The 911 operator told him to lay down on the ground as he waited for the ambulance to arrive. 

“I felt really sick at that point, like my stomach was starting to turn into knots,” Poretti said.

About four minutes later, a woman walking by also offered to help. 

She ran to her car to grab an EpiPen — a shot of epinephrine often used to treat anaphylaxis that Poretti had never had to use before.

The life-saving medication acts on the whole body to block the progression of the allergic reaction.

The drug constricts the blood vessels, allowing the muscles around the airways to relax, and the lungs to open. Epinephrine also prevents the release of more allergic chemicals, which stops the progression of the allergic response.

Poretti said what happened next is fuzzy.

“I could see her run off in the distance, but everything was really blurry on the sides and it was really starting to get dark in the middle,” he said.

He also remembers being too unwell to follow the 911 dispatchers instructions on how to administer the drug on himself.

“The lady actually looked at me and said, ‘Do you want me to do this for you?’ I nodded and she grabbed it and jammed it in, and probably within about a minute, I could feel it kind of course through.”

Poretti says his smart watch captured the moment one of the Good Samaritans gave him a dose of epinephrine. (Submitted by David Poretti)

Soon after, his breathing improved and he was able to walk to the ambulance, with assistance, when it arrived about three minutes later.

Now, he is eager to somehow repay and thank the strangers who helped him “because without both of them, there’s no chance I would have been able to make it.”  

Poretti doesn’t know what triggered his allergic reaction. He has a macadamia nut allergy, however, and suspects some almonds he ate before leaving his house were cross-contaminated.

About once every ten years, Poretti gets “one of these close scares,” he said. 

Prepare for the worst, wife says

His wife, Michelle Poretti, who was at home cooking dinner when her husband went out for his run, found out about what happened through a phone call; she was told by a paramedic that her husband was en route to the hospital. 

“That’s not a phone call that you ever, ever want to get.” she said. “You just don’t expect this.” 

She believes the incident could have ended very badly if good people weren’t around to help.

She feels incredibly thankful, especially to the woman who administered the epinephrine to her husband.

“We’re so thankful and we’ve no idea who these people are, which is just bonkers to think that they changed our lives without knowing,” Michelle Poretti said.

The incident, she added, should also serve as a reminder — especially to members of Edmonton’s tight-knit running community — to always be prepared for the worst. 

Michelle Poretti suffers from a severe allergy to bee stings, and will no longer be leaving the house without her phone and her EpiPen in hand. 

She will also never take her family’s health — or the kindness of strangers — for granted again.

“It made me really grateful for our life together.” 

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