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Newsletter. Issue 2007-26. December 22, 2007
Canada Christmas Special
55 PGA - West GTA
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Canada Christmas Special

Love and Prayer Helps Couple Survive Fall Through Ice
By Maria Fraser, Repulse Bay

Maria Fraser nee Fernandes, is a Registered Out-post Nurse and has been working in Repulse Bay, Eastern Arctic Nunavut since 1990. Repulse Bay is on the west of Hudsons Bay on the Arctic Circle, above the 65th. parallel.

She was born and grew up in Nairobi, Kenya which on the Equator. She says that her experience gained in the remote out-post region on Northern Kenya facilitated her work here on the remote tundra of Northern Canada.

Christmas is a time of sharing happiness and joy with first and foremost our immediate family. It was the 14th. October 2007 when an Inuit couple in their mid fifties decided to go cariboo hunting to provide for their family and friends in this little settlement comprising of about 1000 residents, ninety-five percent of whom are Inuit.

The temperature outside was - 30 degrees C and dropped even further with the windchill to -35 degrees C. Dressed in cariboo clothing, John and Goretti got ready with some hot tea in thermos and some bannock. John had his snowmobile (skidoo) primed the night before and got it started that Sunday morning and headed out of town to a spot that is known to have herds of cariboo. John's oldest son and his son-in-law were to join him later in the afternoon. It was obvious that the men in this family knew this spot well. All they had to guide them on the road were previous skidoo tracts leading them to the place. An hour and a half out of town they spotted two hunters in the distance who had just caught cariboo and were heading home. They waved to each other. John followed the cariboo tracts and soon came accross his first cariboo and shot it . A few seconds later shot his second cariboo. The rest of the herd got closer but soon left on seeing the dead cariboo. John and Goretti went ahead to hide behind a hill till the rest of the herd were out of the way. They got to the kill and not having their sled (komatik) with them decided to tie the cariboo with a rope to their skidoo, dragging it along the snow and ice packed tundra.

Both had, by now, crossed many frozen lakes passing through narrow passages through the hills and frozen the lakes. There were some icy and slippery spots on the lakes. They crossed thick sheets of icy glass-like lakes when all of a sudden the skidoo started to sink through what appeard an eight inches thick ice sheet. Soon both Goretti and John found themselves submerged in icy water. Goretti afraid, started to panic, grabbing anything she could get her hands on: the ice edge and looking to the back of their skidoo saw the cariboo floating and quickly held on to the one of the antlers. She watched her flask of tea and the bag of bannock sink to the bottom of the fresh water lake.The skidoo was now out of sight in a matter of minutes sunk to the bottom. Goretti felt her legs getting heavier with her Sorell boots waterlogged and she felt herself being pulled down, so she hurridly kicked off the heavy Sorell boots and these sunk to the bottom. Dressed in her cariboo outfit and a pair of socks she struggled to keep afloat holding to the ice edge with one hand and the cariboo antler with the other.

Her husband John, too, had removed his boots and let them drop into the lake and was holding on to the ice edge which kept breaking and he grabbed the next edge and with his right hand. He removed his binoculars and with it endeavoured to clump some snow on the ice edge to form a kind of peg to lever himself onto the ice edge. John had his rifle trapped accross his chest and tried to remove the strap over his head but the strap if the rifle kept getting caught in the hood of his parka. He felt his breathing getting shallower as he got deeper into the freezing waters. He said to Goretti that whatever happens he is not going to let them sink to the bottom of the lake but would hold on Goretti and the two of them would remain frozen above water, holding each other. He wanted his family to find them together.

Fresh water lakes are very slippery unlike the ocean that is salt water and less slippery according to John who is a well seasoned hunter in the territory. John managed to get both his feet on to the ice edge with his body still under the water. Goretti said that she could hold no longer hold on and exclaimed that she was going to let go. John said that the have to stay alive for their children and grand children and asked Goretti to pray. Goretti prayed aloud, John held on to Goretti's wrist that was holding the edge of the ice and with his other hand on the peg that he had fashioned manouvered his body on to the ice edge. He quickly proceeded to pull Goretti out of the water on to the edge.

They had been in the frigid waters for about half an hour. Their feet were frozen and they could barely walk. Goretti and John began to crawl on her hands and knees hoping that their son would soon be there to rescue them. John felt that he was going to black -out as he got up to walk. He was exhausted and worried.There was no sign of their son. They crawled towards a spot where John had his sled and a box of cariboo skins, this took an hour to reach. Goretti was tired and exhausted and did not wish to crawl anymore. John was determined to get to the box and encouraged Goretti saying that they had children and grandchildren waiting for them and that they had to be together this Christmas. After an hour's struggle in the cold and their hands and feet with no feeling from extreme cold temperatures, they managed to reach their box of cariboo skins. The skins were dry. John laid down the skins and Goretti sat down shivering. John helped her remove her cold parka and covered her with dry skins. They removed their wet socks tried and wrung out as much of the water and put them on again. He did the same to himself when suddenly he heard sounds in the still, cold air. There were three all terrain vehicles(hondas) in the distance. He tried to wave to them. The first two hondas kept going ahead and did not see them. The third honda did and turned around and headed towards them. The other two hondas seeing that the third was not following, also turned around and followed the honda tracks and came to John's and Goretti's rescue. These hunters had hot tea that they quickly poured for John and Goretti. They removed their own parkas and dry windpants and gave these to John and Goretti to wear. One of the ladies on the honda removed her inner sweater and duffle socks and gave these to Goretti. The rescurers got Goretti and the other lady onto the sled that John had and they all headed back to town to the health centre where I work . It took them two hours to reach us at the health centre.

Goretti did not remember being in the Health Centre. On arrival her core temperature was 30 degrees C. All the nurses worked hard to get Goretti out her hypothermic state. John happened to be in a better shape and was coherent enough to tell us to attend to Goretti first.

Today, almost two months later Goretti and John are thankfull for the gift of life and being able to be with their family this Christmas. Goretti says that this experience has brought the family much more closer especially those who had drifted apart. This is going to be a very special Christmas for this family as they celebrate the gift of life in their home.

Goretti and John have 6 children, 19 grandchildren, 1 great- grand child and another great grand child due Dec.16th 2007. Goretti and John have permitted me to write and share their dramatic courage and faith with you all.

Wishing all the readers a truly Blessed Christmas and New Year 2008

Maria Fraser nee Fernandes, Repulse Bay, Nunavut Eastern Arctic Canada

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