Hilleree Valade-Kubar had just enjoyed a fun weekend road trip in the Rocky Mountains with two lifelong friends. She was snoozing peacefully in the backseat as they wound their way through the landscape, when searing chest pain woke her up.

“She says all of a sudden, ‘You guys know if there’s a hospital nearby?’” Valade-Kubar’s friend Jennifer Jacobson recalled.

A rural medical centre was just three kilometres away, and the trio wasted no time.

“Considering we were in the middle of the Rocky Mountains, it was probably pretty lucky,” mused Valade-Kubar, an Ontario resident.

The remote facility was small and not equipped to perform the treatment she needed, so STARS was called to help. During the flight to the city for emergency surgery, our paramedic and nurse fought for her life in the back of the aircraft.

“That day, STARS gave me more time,” she said. “From the moment I was in their care, I wasn’t afraid, and I knew that everything was going to be okay.”

Her other friend, the only Western Canadian in the trio, was relieved when she learned STARS would be there.

“I’m the Albertan of the group,” said Jen Olekszyk. “I know that when STARS gets called, things are very serious. And it also gave me some comfort knowing that STARS is first-rate. They are amazing. So, I knew she would be in good care.”

One year later, Valade-Kubar and her two friends made another road trip, visiting everyone involved in her survival story.

“We kind of called it the ‘Thanks for not letting me die’ tour,” said Valade-Kubar while visiting the STARS base. “We wanted to thank everyone who helped me that day. There really are no words to say what STARS gave back to me by giving me that extra bit of time to get to the hospital. I’ve had a year with my family, and I’ve been able to celebrate birthdays with my children.”

The women each got matching tattoos of the Three Sisters mountain peak near Fernie, B.C., the area they had been exploring on their fateful road trip.

“For me, it had sort of a dual purpose,” said Valade-Kubar, showing the tattoo on her right wrist. “The three of us were together in a life-changing situation, so I certainly would consider us like three sisters, but I also have three daughters, and the type of heart attack that I had, about 80 per cent of them happen to women. My kids are going to know the signs for heart attack so that when they’re older, if it is something that happens to them, maybe they’ll be able to be more aware and get help sooner.”

STARS was only able to care for Valade-Kubar and help her get back home to her family because our donors care enough to support the mission. We could not operate as an organization without our donors. Our allies fuel the helicopter, put pilots in the front and paramedics, physicians and nurses in the back, and that support means we can be there for the next patient who needs us.