ʻanela (ah-nay-la): angel (in Hawaiian)
On the first day of February, after being away from home for nearly a month—roughly half of that as planned vacation, half of it not—I returned to Sacramento from Hawaii, winging my way across the Pacific for the first time by myself.
Since 1995 I’ve traveled to and from Hawaii with Dick at least once and occasionally two times a year. He is the reason I go to Hawaii, having formed an attachment with the place beginning in February 1968 when he took that month off from his job as a Sacramento Bee photographer to spend a week on each of the major islands.
He turned 25 on Feb. 13, on the Big Island, where he was surprised to learn that they had an active volcano. He drove from Hilo up to Volcanoes National Park, made his way to the crater called Halemaʻumaʻu (Hah-lay-mah-umu-u). There he climbed up the steps of bleachers—like the ones set up for sporting events—and watched bright orange lava bubble up from the belly of the earth. He had other jaw-dropping experiences on Maui, Kauai and Oahu, too. And he knew he wanted to return.
In 1971 Dick took a leave of absence from The Bee, shortly after he married Mary Lou Mangold, and they spent their first year together in Honolulu. Dick had gotten a temporary job at the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, and Mary Lou took a leave of absence from her state job in Sacramento to work for a bank. They loved it there, and that year changed their lives in the best possible ways. They made lifelong friends and traveled throughout the islands. That was when Hawaii became home for them. Even after they divorced in the 1980s, Dick and Mary Lou remained lifelong friends, traveling to Hawaii a number of times together to visit people and places they loved.
Dick has shown me that part of his heart and home, showing me the places that have touched him deeply—from Kalaupapa, the former leprosy settlement on the island of Molokai, to exploring the Kilauea eruption on the Big Island, which just concluded in spectacular (and destructive fashion) last year. We’ve driven and hiked the former pineapple-growing island of Lanai, and we’ve spent weeks soaking up the north shore of Kauai. But Oahu, in so many ways, because they lived there, is one of Dick’s homes.
We did not expect to extend our vacation, as many people have suggested, by spending it in a hospital in Honolulu, but once again, Hawaii opened its heart to Dick’s struggling one. We’ve found nothing but kindness and ohana (family) who have been extremely sympathetic to Dick’s health crisis and my needs, too.
So while I hated to leave Dick, I did so knowing that he was in the good hands of our two friends, Connie and Cora, in a lovely little house in Pearl City. I was taken to the airport by two now-dear friends who’ve done a great deal for us—Jenna Tanigawa of the AED Institute and Makena Ongoy, my former student. Still, I sat at gate E9, waiting to board the Hawaiian Airlines flight home, with a heavy heart.
Then I heard my name over the loudspeaker: “Will Janis Haag, passenger on flight 20 to Sacramento, come to the podium?” Oh, no, I thought. What now? But I took myself to the podium to see one man helping another passenger. I waited and then introduced myself. And Chris Ohta made my day.
“I wanted to see you again,” he said, and my eyebrows rose. I didn’t remember him. “I’m the one who used the AED on your husband,” he said, and my mouth fell open.
“You? You were the one?” I said. “You ran for the AED?”
“Yes,” Chris said.
“You opened it and placed the pads on his chest and belly? You shocked him?”
“Yes,” Chris said.
“You need to come out from behind there,” I told him. “I need to give you a hug.” And I did.
“How did it happen?” I asked. “What did you see?”
Chris said that he and his colleague Heather Tanonaka were at the podium when Dick fell into the metal luggage-sizing stand. They saw him hit the ground, not moving. She immediately picked up the phone and called 911. He went to find the nearest AED, which are placed 90 seconds apart at the Daniel K. Inoyue International Airport in Honolulu. He knew where to go, retrieved the device and sprinted back to gate C1. He opened the device, which began talking to him, giving him instructions. But Chris had also been trained and knew to take the pads and place one on Dick’s heart and another on the opposite side on his ribs. The machine told him (as we learned in our training the day before from Jenna) that the patient did not have a heart rhythm, said “clear” and delivered the shock that delivered Dick back to life.
I was stunned.
“I wanted to meet you,” Chris said again. “And so did Heather, but she couldn’t be here today.”
They knew I was coming because Pam Foster of the AED Institute had contacted Hawaiian Airlines to arrange my flight home. Chris made sure he was working the gate where I’d be. I’d walked right past him to sit down and had a momentary thought to check in since I hadn’t set up that flight. But I’d checked a bag and had a boarding pass, so I didn’t think I needed to.
It turned out that I did. I needed to meet one more of the ʻanela—the angels—who saved Dick Schmidt’s life. (I think, among our many companion spirits, one of those saviors was Mary Lou Mangold, the little red-haired angel who died in 2016.) We’ve encountered so many of them in this village of healing and aloha that is Hawaii. We are so grateful to the 50th state for many reasons, but Hawaii has given us one more reason to love them with our appreciative, happily beating hearts.