José Mandojana for Reader's Digest
The sign tacked to the tree was simple enough: “Did you call 911 last March 17? You saved my life. Please call me.” It was posted in the Hollywood section of Los Angeles by a 71-year-old retired judge.
The judge, Leon (he prefers that his last name not be used), was taking his car in for servicing that day, when he had a sudden, massive heart attack. He learned later that someone had called 911 and begun CPR, but the details about how his life was saved were still sketchy. After five days in the hospital and more time in outpatient recovery, Leon drove to the intersection where the drama had played out, posted his sign, and began knocking on doors. He was grateful he hadn’t hurt anybody and determined to give thanks.
“Two women came out of the corner house,” Leon says. Their names were Samantha Geballe and Ashley Domask, and Leon asked if they knew anything about the incident. “And Samantha says, ‘Oh my God—you’re the man.’”
Geballe and Domask told Leon they had heard noise and gone outside to find a confusing sight: Leon flat on his back in the street with a woman on her cell phone kneeling over him, taking instructions from a 911 dispatcher.
“He was totally out of it and turning purple and dying,” Geballe recalls.
Domask, a CPR-trained psychotherapist, had a shoulder injury and couldn’t help. But she encouraged the woman on the phone to begin chest compressions.
Other people had gathered, and some of them questioned that treatment, perhaps thinking Leon had been hit by a car and might have cracked ribs or other broken bones. Domask helped the woman stay focused on a steady rhythm of quick, strong thrusts, hands splayed against Leon’s chest. A bit of his normal color returned.Minutes later, the paramedics wheeled Leon away. The woman who had performed CPR was ready to resume her commute to work.
“I stopped her and asked how she was,” says Domask. “She paused a moment, then started to cry, so we sat down on the curb.” A few minutes later, she was gone.
As Leon processed what Domask and Geballe recounted, a feeling of warmth washed over him. “Someone saw me and intervened, and I was so touched,” he says. A friend of Leon’s told me he has been devoted to social causes for decades, serving as a guardian angel to many. Now he needed to find his guardian angel.
Leon went home and managed to dig up the record of the phone number that called 911 that day. He dialed; a woman answered.
“He asked if I was the one who called 911 on March 17,” says the woman. “I said yes, and he said, ‘I’m the man. You saved my life.’”
Her name is Susie Powell, and that day she was driving to her job as a legal assistant. Powell has a habit of pausing at that particular intersection to make eye contact with other drivers. She wants to make sure they know that they have a stop sign and she does not.
“I couldn’t make eye contact because he was slumped over in his seat,” says Powell. “And I realized I should check this out.”
She parked and knocked on Leon’s window. No response. She dialed 911. Get him out of the car and flat on his back, the dispatcher advised.
When Powell began pulling Leon, his foot came off the brake and the car started rolling. Powell walked alongside the moving car, finally wrestling Leon free. The car continued forward slowly before coming to a stop against a parked vehicle.
Powell knew CPR, but she was nervous. “At first I wasn’t doing it hard enough, and Ashley was like, ‘He’s turning blue—you have to do it harder,’ and I put my whole body into it. There were people shouting at me and saying I was stupid and don’t touch him, to the point where I second-guessed myself. Ashley said, ‘Don’t listen to any of that,’ and she was counting really loud. One-two-three-four-five.”
Two months after the incident, Leon finally met Powell for lunch. “We hugged,” she says. “He was gracious.” When Leon asked what he could do in thanks, Powell said he didn’t need to do anything.
As they got to know each other over lunch, Leon told Powell about his many interests. He mentioned his support of Xela AID, a nonprofit that delivers services and resources in Guatemala. Once again, their lives intersected. “In college, I did a study-abroad tour in Central America,” says Powell. Her language school was in Xela.
Leon had an idea. He sponsors a child’s education in Xela, he told Powell. What if he sponsored a second child in her name? “As soon as he said it, I thought, Oh, that’s lovely,” says Powell.
For more information on Xela AID, go to localhope.org.