This may be the story that Dick Schmidt and I tell for the rest of our lives about one of our many trips to Hawaii.
We were about to board the plane in Honolulu Tuesday, Jan. 15, after coming in from 12 days on Kauai, rushing a bit to get to a different terminal. But we made it with a little time to spare. As Dick was about to hand his boarding pass to the gate attendant, he felt dizzy and collapsed into a metal stand, bleeding from the nose and mouth.
I was on the floor with him in an instant, knowing he was gone. I could see a pulse fluttering in his neck. I could see he wasn’t breathing.
“Dickie, no!” I heard myself say. “Come back! Come back!”
Then a man who’d been in line to board the plane appeared at my side. “I’m a nurse,” said Claudio Alvarado. “Let me help.” And I stood up as his partner, Camron Calloway, came to hug me. Claudio checked for a pulse and then began chest compressions on Dick.
A woman came out of the line saying that she was a nurse, too, and she and Claudio worked on Dick together. Shortly thereafter, the EMTs arrived and so did a small, portable machine with pads and wires that were hooked up to Dick’s chest. Someone called “clear!” and the machine delivered a great shock to Dick’s fluttering heart. It brought him back to life within a couple of minutes of his collapse.
The machine is an AED (an automated external defibrillator) that uses electricity to stop a heart in arrhythmia and return it to its regular rhythm. It was developed in the mid-1960s by a cardiologist named Frank Pantridge in Belfast, Ireland.
Dick was transported to Kaiser Moanalua Medical Center in Honolulu where he was treated in the ER and gotten to a room in a few hours. I’ve been with him there ever since. He’s had a cardiac catheterization, which revealed major blockages in his arteries. He is waiting in the hospital now for a surgery date for a CABG (pronounced “cabbage”), a coronary artery bypass graft.
The next day Pam Foster and Jenna Tanigawa of the AED Institute came to visit us in the hospital. The Institute places AEDs all over Hawaii and offer free training to the general public on how to use the devices. They told us that AEDs have been used on 69 people at airports in Hawaii. Fifty of those people survived.
Dick is the 50th survivor. That’s a significant number for him. Last year was the 50th anniversary of Dick’s first trip to Hawaii, visiting all four islands in the month of February 1968, as he celebrated his 25th birthday. Hawaii, of course, is the 50th state.
I sit in the hospital now, watching Dick sleep a lot, as he grows stronger daily, bit by bit. The doctors want him to feel stronger and better before surgery. My colleagues at Sacramento City College have been wonderful about helping me find substitutes to start the spring semester next week. We have friends who have brought and sent us supplies in the hospital, including the man whose Hawaiian guidebooks I’ve proofread for more than 20 years and a former student of mine who works for him on Oahu. Other friends and family have offered to come help, too. I will be here in Honolulu for a while yet, as will Dick.
He’s here. He’s here. We are beyond grateful to all the people who made that miracle possible.