Nursing grad finds career direction after his own health scare in residence

Growing up in Calgary, Andrew Choate always knew he would attend the University of Alberta one day. After all, his grandparents and parents were U of A grads. What was harder to decide was his field of study. After starting in arts, Choate switched to business in his second year.

Then a life-changing event altered the course of his university studies—and led him to his calling.

He wasn’t feeling well after a party one evening, so he headed to the communal washroom in his student residence. Soon after, another student found him passed out on the floor. At first, they thought Choate had had too much to drink, but they quickly realized he was having a cardiac arrest. A residence adviser used the newly installed defibrillator to keep Choate alive until the ambulance arrived.

“Those students saved my life,” Choate said. 

He woke up in a bed at the U of A Hospital, surrounded by family, unable to remember anything that had happened. He had been in a coma for two days, while his family and medical team wondered what he would be like when he awoke. His brain had been deprived of oxygen for an unknown amount of time and the doctors estimated his heart was stopped for as long as 25 minutes. They determined his cardiac arrest had been caused by an undiagnosed congenital heart condition called Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome.

Choate’s time in hospital opened his eyes to nursing as a possible career path, he said.

“One nurse I remember took the time to really explain things to me, because I didn’t have any health-care knowledge at all,” he said. “Another nurse told my parents to have hope when I was in a coma—even if you aren’t religious, to pray and have that hope—which gave them the reassurance they needed.”

Helping others when they need it

Choate recovered his mental capacity more quickly than anyone expected. Following corrective surgery for his heart condition (he is now completely recovered), he got back to classes, and after a semester back studying business, he made the switch to the Faculty of Nursing.

While he found the nursing courses more challenging, Choate knew he’d made the right choice from the start. “You get to interact a lot with people, which I love, and help others when they need it, and it’s also very scientific and rigorous,” he said.

“It’s relating to people, being an advocate, problem-solving and communicating with patients and their families and other health-care professionals,” he said. “Nurses do all of that.”

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