Meet the woman who saves a life a day on Surrey’s 135A Street strip

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Rosie Rurka has a reputation on Surrey’s notorious 135A Street strip as a woman who brings people back from the dead.

The so-called “Surrey Strip” is notorious for problems with homelessness, drug use and crime.

Rurka is a frontline worker who can be found on any given night in a dingy alley or filthy tent reviving an overdose victim.

Rurka believes she has saved dozens of lives over the last five months by administering naloxone, which can reverse the effects of an overdose.

“They tell you when you start the position that you’re not required to do narcan, but then who is going to do it?” Rurka said.

“Some of our clients are trained with their narcan kits but we’re the ones they come running to.”

Above and beyond

On a recent evening, Rurka was called to a tent where a man had overdosed.

Two tiny candles inside gave just enough light to illuminate the unmistakable signs of a drug den.

There was blood spattered on the walls from previous messy injections and the floor was littered with syringes.

Erin Schulte, who runs a pop-up soup kitchen in the area, crawled inside with Rurka to save the man’s life.

The victim still wasn’t breathing after two doses of naloxone, so Rurka blew into his lungs.

“It takes a special kind of person to give mouth-to-mouth resuscitation to a person in that situation and that’s what Rosie did,” Schulte said.

After a couple of minutes, the man sat up.

“He said, ‘Thank you for saving my life!’ and he grabbed me and wouldn’t let me go,” Rurka said.

“[Erin and I] looked at each other. She started crying and I started crying. It was the first time someone really responded to me like that. Usually they say, ‘Where’s my dope?’ or ‘Why did you ruin my high?'”

135A-Street-Victims-Poster

A memorial to the people who have died along the 135A Street strip is on display in front of a drop-in centre. (Jesse Johnston/CBC)

Will to live

Rurka routinely revives men and women.

On at least one occasion, she also saved a teenager.

“She was 14 years old and when I went to give her CPR, she vomited and choked on her vomit,” Rurka said.

“I had to scoop it out and I went mouth-to-mouth because I had to. It was disgusting and it was gross but that doesn’t faze me. All I know is there’s a person dying here and I have to save their life.”

Rurka says the stress of her job doesn’t bother her because facing death reminds her of how much she wants to live.

“I was down here, too,” she said.

“Eight years ago, I was homeless, an IV drug user and addicted to heroin. I feel like this is a way for me to give back to the community that I’ve taken so much from.”

She is so grateful for her sobriety that she’s willing to immerse herself in a community where her former drug of choice is as common as a rainy spring day on 135A Street.

“I’m done with the lifestyle and I know where it’s going to go,” she said.

“I don’t want to die today. I did back then. I was at a point where I didn’t care if I died. But today? Today, I care about myself.”

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Meet the woman who saves a life a day on Surrey’s 135A Street strip

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