By MAKENA HUEY | Mission Times Courier
Ever since quarantine began, Peter and Alyce Doan, along with their three young children, have been taking walks around their San Carlos neighborhood to get exercise and fresh air. On April 11, the day before Easter, the family decided to take a shortcut home — a route they had never taken before.
As they approached the intersection between Blue Lake Drive and Twin Lakes Drive, they slowed to allow an older man to pass them. The man nodded. However, something about the man’s behavior made Peter pause. He saw the man stagger to the left and then right before collapsing in the middle of the street.
Immediately, Peter asked the man if he was OK. But due to the coronavirus, he and Alyce were uncertain whether they should get closer.
“When he first fell, we were like, ‘Should we get close to him? Are we OK to get close to him? Does he have COVID? What if we have it, and we give it to him?,” Alyce said.
Peter realized the man was not breathing, and although he didn’t know what to do, he knew they “had to do something.”
Alyce, along with a mail carrier who was passing by, called 911. The operator instructed Peter to perform CPR on the man, who was now turning blue.
Defying social distancing regulations, he took off his sweater and his son’s sweater, placing them under the man’s head. Peter — who now believes everyone should learn basic CPR skills — said his chest compressions were too soft and slow at first because he was afraid the man would “break.”
“I was so scared for him,” Peter said. “And I didn’t even think at that time about COVID or anything. I just saw him lying on the street, and I wanted to do something. I wish I knew more.”
A woman driving by got out of her car to help. She held the man’s hand and looked in his wallet to find his address.
Realizing the man was only a block and a half away from his home, someone ran to his house, where he found the man’s wife and brought her to the scene of the accident.
Another neighbor heard the commotion and came outside. He happened to be a physician, so he took over chest compressions for Peter until the firefighters from Station 34 arrived — about 10 minutes after the man first collapsed.
Eighteen minutes after they arrived, the firefighters were able to get Bob’s heart to beat again, and they rushed him to the emergency room.
After the ambulance left, Peter, Alyce and their children continued to think about the man lying in the street.
“I feel like I didn’t do enough,” Peter said. “I feel I should have done more. If I had known more, I could have done more. It was kind of an uneasy feeling — we didn’t know if he was OK or not.”
The road to recovery
When 76-year-old Bob Kennedy woke up in a hospital bed, he did not know where he was or how he got there. The last thing he remembered was enjoying his daily walk, four days earlier.
Kennedy collapsed due to heart condition that led to ventricular fibrillation, prompting doctors to intubate him, put him on a ventilator, induce a coma, and implant a pacemaker. He was hospitalized from April 11 to April 30.
“The time in the hospital was pretty rough because 24/7, I was there by myself except for the nurses and the lab techs and the doctors,” Kennedy said.
Due to the pandemic, Kennedy’s wife — Nancy Davis Kennedy — and his two daughters were unable to visit him, so they communicated through twice-daily phone calls, which the nurses helped coordinate.
“I actually think that the worst emotional part had to be for Nancy and my two girls and my mother and my brother because there was nothing I could do, and they didn’t know what was going on,” Kennedy said. “So that had to be really, really hard for them.”
Kennedy said the day he was released from the hospital was especially emotional because it was the first and last time he was able to hug one of his children since the pandemic began.
“The only physical contact I’ve had with either one of my daughters was that day I got out of the hospital because I said, ‘I’m damn sure gonna give them hugs,’” Kennedy said. “I miss that a lot.”
Since returning home, Kennedy said he is doing well. He is back to walking over two miles every day, and he recently won money golfing.
With the help of her neighbors, Davis Kennedy was able to identify the couple as Peter and Alyce, who lived about 10 minutes away.
Davis Kennedy called Alyce to thank her and Peter for saving her husband’s life and to tell them that her husband was going to be OK.
Peter said when Alyce told him that Bob was OK, he asked, ‘Who’s Bob?’
“He had no idea what my name was; I was just some guy he found laying in the middle of the street,” Kennedy said. “The story is not me. The story is the way everybody coalesced and came to my aid.”
Peter said he felt both happy and relieved when he found out Kennedy had survived because he felt responsible for the stranger’s wellbeing.
Davis Kennedy continued to update Peter and Alyce on her husband’s condition until he was able to return home.
The Kennedy’s recently invited Peter and Alyce to their house for a socially-distanced lunch so they could meet each other’s families and thank them in person.
“When they walked in the house, it was very, very emotional for both Peter and me,” Kennedy said. “Both of us teared up. We couldn’t hug each other, but it was pretty amazing. … It was a special, special day, and I know my daughters were very touched by what [Peter and Alyce] had done, as am I. I can’t say enough about them.”
Peter and Alyce, who are Vietnamese, said they bonded with Kennedy, whom they learned is a Vietnam veteran. During their lunch, they took turns sharing stories about their experiences in the country.
Kennedy, who has now had three near-death experiences, said he considers every day since he was wounded in Vietnam to be a gift. He is certain he would have died, or at least had severe brain damage, if it were not for the selflessness of his neighbors.
“It was just a magical team effort to keep me alive,” Kennedy said. “This was not a one- or two-person event; this was good neighbors getting out and doing what they needed to do to help a neighbor.”
The Purple Heart recipient said he is extremely grateful.
“To me, Peter and Alyce are heroes because they actually saved my life,” Kennedy said.
Peter and Alyce disagree. They think anyone would have done what they did.
“We don’t think of ourselves as heroes,” Alyce said. “We just saw that he needed help, and we were just going to help. Nothing was going to stop up from helping him. Even with COVID going around, we just had to do something.”
— Makena Huey is a senior at Pepperdine University in Malibu, California, pursuing a major in English and minor in journalism. The San Diego native was the editor-in-chief of Currents magazine and is currently the managing editor of the Graphic newspaper.