Dawn MacKay and John St. Jean, her husband, were in their Grande Prairie home late Thursday night, playing a board game. Around 9:15 p.m., Jean suddenly stood up and announced that he had to leave — he had bought a surprise for MacKay and needed to pick it up.
"I said 'What are you talking about, it's 9:15 at night. Come on, sit down, I'm going to kick your butt at Yahtzee and that's all there is to it," she said.
But Jean was insistent. He left and walked to the parking lot of a Mac's convenience store about a block from the couple's house. MacKay later found out that Jean had arranged to purchase a ring for her and had planned to meet the seller in the parking lot.
MacKay said she found it odd when Jean didn't return within a few minutes. She sent him a few text messages, none of which were returned. When she finally did get a phone call at 11:30, it wasn't from Jean. Instead, the woman on the phone explained that that she was a police officer and that Jean had been involved in an "altercation."
'Someone's got to protect the underdog'
When the officer asked for Jean's medical history, MacKay thought he had been involved in a minor fight.
"I said ask him yourself, and he'll tell you. He knows his medical history," MacKay recalls.
"And there was kind of dead air and she said 'he's in a coma.'"
MacKay soon learned the details. She said while outside the convenience store, Jean came across a man who appeared to be picking a fight with a young boy. At some point, she's told, the man hurled a racial slur at the boy.
"John really doesn't tolerate that kind of [thing]," she said. "Someone's got to protect the underdog."
He stepped between the two, giving the boy a chance to get away. Jean told the man to go home, and when he appeared to do so, Jean turned around to enter the store. That's when he was attacked from behind.
The two men struggled and fell to the pavement. MacKay was told that, at some point, the man was able to get on top of Jean.
"He just got him on the ground, got him on the ground. And he curb stomped him," she said.
MacKay said she was told the fight was captured on video. RCMP have confirmed that they have a 24-year-old man in custody facing charges of aggravated assault, but have not confirmed the details of the incident.
On life support
Jean was rushed to hospital. While in the ambulance, he was sedated and placed into a coma. He was later transferred to the University of Alberta hospital in Edmonton, where he remains on life support.
MacKay said staff at the hospital have attempted to take her husband off the sedative to wake him up several times, but he has reacted violently each time.
"He's still fighting. He's waking up halfway, and then fighting — like, flailing his arms," she said.
"They tried again this morning to wake him, and it took three nurses and one nurse on top of him to hold him down."
She said she was told it was not an unusual reaction for patients who suffered an extreme trauma to be combative while waking up. They will make another attempt later Saturday afternoon to take him off the sedative.
WestJet offers to fly son to father's bedside
MacKay and Jean first met in Edmonton for a "whirlwind romance" 21 years ago, and she became pregnant with a son. Eventually, MacKay said, "life came up" and the couple lost touch. MacKay and the couple's son, Dakota, moved back to her home province of Nova Scotia.
Three years ago, Jean and MacKay reconnected over a phone call.
"I called him and said 'hey, what are you doing?' We've been together ever since," she said.
She said Jean's family is now gathering in Edmonton to support him through his recovery. Dakota, now 20, was attempting to raise enough money to fly to Edmonton to see his father. But then, MacKay said they received a surprise phone call from WestJet, offering to cover Dakota's airfare.
"We all just bawled. We couldn't even imagine," she said.
"It's going to be tough to see his dad, knowing that he can't communicate. But he'll be here."
MacKay said she has received a lot of support, including donations, from friends and family back in Nova Scotia. But she's received the most help from people in Grande Prairie, a place where she and Jean have lived for just over a year.
"You know who your people are, you know who your friends are, even no matter how far away you are," she said.
"But Grand Prairie as a community has just completely blown all of our minds … with support."
MacKay said while the family is worried about Jean, they are comforted by the fact that some good has come from the fight. She's thankful her husband was there to prevent another person from being injured.
"I'm happy, because the young guy got away safely," she said.
"[Jean's] strong, he'll make it. I know that he'll be okay. I know it."