When the four of us met in person for the first time just inside the restaurant door last night, we hugged as if we’d known each other forever. Bystanders might have thought we were family—the older, gray-haired couple meeting the young men, one 26, one 32, we learned.
Actually, it wasn’t the first time we four had met. But on January 15, Dick had collapsed at the airport in Honolulu, and these two strangers materialized—Claudio Alvarado, the UC Davis Medical Center nurse, to kneel by Dick, and his partner Camron Calloway, who stood with me and put his arms around me.
Claudio, it turned out, was the monitor, the one who checked Dick’s pulse after he fell, noticed it fluttering and that he was still breathing. But by the time he rolled Dick onto his back, both pulse and heartbeat had stopped. By then, another stranger was kneeling on the other side of Dick—Salesi Maumau, an off-duty Honolulu firefighter—and somehow, with few words spoken, Salesi and Claudio became an instant lifesaving team as Salesi began CPR on Dick.
At the same time the Hawaiian Airlines folks at the desk sprang into action: Heather Tanonaka called 911. Chris Ohta ran for one of the portable defibrillators, an AED, which are placed 90 seconds apart at the Daniel K. Inouye Airport.
But it was Claudio and Salesi who knelt on the ground with Dick, and Camron who comforted me, when Chris arrived with the AED.
“Salesi and I put the pads on your chest,” Claudio told Dick last night after we settled into a comfy booth at Roxy. “But Chris was so eager to push the button after the AED said to administer the shock that he forgot to call ‘clear.’ I still had my hands on Dick’s head, holding his neck straight.”
Dick and I were startled. “You didn’t…?” I said, holding my breath.
“No,” Claudio said. “I pulled my hands away just in time.”
Because—if you haven’t been reading all my blog posts—AEDs stop hearts, giving them a chance to restart. The thought of Claudio’s heart stopping in those crucial minutes nearly stopped mine.
“I was fine,” he emphasized, taking in our faces.
Well, Claudio had to be fine since he remained upright and checking Dick’s pulse throughout the approximately three minutes he was—to be frank—dead on the ground.
We sat there, looking at these two young men who had been a couple for all of a month before this event that changed all our lives. Both of them are military men—Claudio, a Navy nurse before he was discharged (though he’s still in the Naval reserve) and now works in pediatric emergency at UC Davis, and Camron, a courier for the Air Force, flying all over the world managing documents and cargo.
They’d had a long-distance relationship and got really good at FaceTime before they finally got to spend actual time together—Claudio living in Sacramento and Camron now living in Vacaville assigned to Travis Air Force Base. And the trip they’d just finished on Oahu was Camron’s chance to show Claudio an island Camron has come to love and explored extensively in the recent years.
And after Dick came back to life with one shock of the AED, after the emergency personnel arrived to take over and get Dick and me to the hospital, Claudio and Camron and Salesi got on Hawaiian Airlines flight 20 back to Sacramento. We didn’t know this until the next day when Pam Foster, from the AED Institute in Hawaii, came to see us in the hospital and tell us the story. That’s when we learned that AEDs had been used in airports in Hawaii 69 times with 50 survivors. Dick is number 50. Pam also had Claudio and Camron’s names, and she was on the trail of finding Salesi.
Before he and Claudio raced to get on the plane, Camron and I thought to trade contact information. And three days after Dick’s triple bypass, Pam Foster contacted me to say that Camron, who was once again on Oahu, wanted to visit. He arrived at the hospital in his light-colored camo fatigues and made a FaceTime call to Claudio so all four of us could meet right there in Dick’s room. It was all we could do not to weep with gratitude.
A couple of weeks ago we got to meet Salesi and his wife Eryn for dinner in Sacramento. And last night we finally got to feed the guys and learn more about them, hear their version of our story (because it truly is our little village’s story). The fact that Dick was brought back to life by the quick action of a team of young people who didn’t know each other but who knew what to do still amazes us—all of them with ties to both Sacramento and Hawaii (like us), all of them under the age of 35 (not like us).
If ever you doubt the willingness to help strangers, the strength and resilience, the competence and compassion of people significantly younger than you, I want to introduce you to these people: Salesi, Chris, Camron and Claudio.
Claudio last night delivered his good news: He’s just gotten a full-time job as a nursing professor at Sacramento City College. He starts teaching in August after spending his summer doing clinical work with SCC nursing students at UCDMC.
I knew Claudio had applied for this job, and I wrote a spontaneous letter singing his praises to the two directors of my college’s nursing program. The letter couldn’t be used in the formal interview process (it was too late for that), but the two women who received it knew about Claudio’s actions that helped save Dick.
So this weekend, as Christians celebrate a great resurrection, as Jews commemorate Passover, Dick and I will go to his family’s little Methodist church on J Street and give our thanks for his passing over and for his resurrection, too. In Dick’s case, he gets to continue to walk the earth for a while longer. We hope it’s a good while longer.
And I plan to write another letter, this time to the president and one of the vice presidents of my college, telling them what a brilliant hire they’ve just made in Claudio Alvarado, one of our heroes, part of our ohana, whom we can’t wait to take to dinner again and again.