The Student News Site of Sacramento City College

The Express

The Student News Site of Sacramento City College

The Express

The Student News Site of Sacramento City College

The Express

Dick Schmidt’s Heart Adventure

Cardiac arrest survivor Dick Schmidt, who was brought back to life Jan. 15, 2019, by a former City College football player and a City College nursing professor, a year later at the gate where he collapsed. (Photo by Jan Haag)

Dick Schmidt recalls the day of Jan. 15, 2019, as ordinary. Taking the long walk between two terminals at the Daniel K. Inouye International Airport on his way home was something he’d done dozens of times. Celebrating the 50th anniversary of his first trip to the Aloha State, Schmidt, 75, was about to take Hawaiian Airlines flight 20 back to Sacramento after two weeks of vacationing in Kauai with his longtime partner, City College journalism professor Jan Haag. 

They arrived at the boarding gate and waited near the end of the line. Just as Schmidt was about to hand his boarding pass to the gate clerk, he recalled, he suddenly felt dizzy. 

“The first second of dizziness I didn’t even acknowledge it, because I just thought it was something that would pass,” remembers Schmidt. “Well, the second second I was out. I was gone.” 


That same day Claudio Alvarado had also made his way through the airport with his partner, Camron Calloway. It was their first trip to Hawaii together, and Alvarado was in no hurry, stopping at the restroom before slowly making his way to the gate. Calloway texted, urging Alvarado to hurry so they wouldn’t be last in line. Alvarado had just joined Calloway at the back of the line when they saw Schmidt collapse. 

“Everyone was kind of in a panic mode, but no one was doing anything,” said Alvarado. “At that point I knew I had to step in.” 

Alvarado was no stranger to distress as a nurse in the pediatric emergency department at UC Davis and former lieutenant commander in the United States Navy. Schmidt was on his side and non-responsive, so Alvarado rolled Schmidt onto his back and noticed blood around his nose and mouth, irregular breathing and a weak pulse. Alvarado turned Schmidt on his side to help him breathe better. 

“At that time the color left his face, and he went gray and then blueish,” said Alvarado. “I checked his pulse again, and at that point I couldn’t feel a pulse whatsoever.” 

It was at this time that off-duty Honolulu firefighter Salesi Maumau, who was also waiting in line to board the aircraft headed to Sacramento, stepped in, knelt by Schmidt and, after a brief conversation with Alvarado, started CPR. Maumau—who played football at City College and at Sacramento State—performed CPR on Schmidt for about two minutes, while they waited for automated external defibrillator, or AED. Hawaiian Airlines employee Chris Ohta had run for an AED, which are installed throughout the airport, and when he returned, he opened the machine, placed the two pads on Schmidt’s upper and lower chest and, when prompted by the AED, pushed the button. After a single shock from the AED that stopped his heart, giving it a chance to restart, Schmidt regained consciousness. 

“I have been a nurse for about nine years, and I have never seen someone go from having no pulse, having CPR, to getting shocked and come back that quickly,” said Alvarado, who is now a City College nursing professor. “It was one of those things where everyone was there at the right time and at the right place.”

With the help of strangers in the 50th anniversary year of Schmidt’s first visit to the 50th state, he became the 50th person to be saved by an AED machine in a Hawaiian airport, according to the AED Institute in Honolulu. 

AED Institute President/CEO Pam Foster, who has spearheaded the effort to install AEDs in airports all over Hawaii, said that for every minute that CPR and a shock from an AED machine is delayed, there’s a 10% less chance of a victim regaining consciousness. 

“Cardiac arrest occurs every minute of every day in the U.S. Most of these people are normal, healthy individuals who just for some reason develop an electrical problem within their heart,” said Foster. 

Though he didn’t yet know it, Schmidt had blockages in three major arteries that led to his cardiac arrest, but Foster said that heart attacks and cardiac arrest can occur for a number of reasons. She said that the best course of action if someone collapses is to call 911 and then start CPR, but she added that CPR only buys the victim more time for an AED machine to arrive. 

“The AED is essentially a control-alt-delete of the electrical system of the heart,” Foster said, noting that the defibrillator stops the heart and allows it a chance to restart. “The sooner you can get that AED attached, the better the chance of survival.” 

 Foster emphasised that what makes the most difference for a victim of a heart attack or cardiac arrest depends on the people nearby, who shouldn’t fear jumping in to help.  

“There’s no way you can make this person worse, because if you do nothing, they have a 90% chance of no survival at all. You can only make them better; you can’t make them worse,” said Foster. 


After Schmidt regained consciousness, he was rushed to the Kaiser Permanente Moanalua Medical Center, and nine days later, on Jan. 24, had triple bypass heart surgery. 

Dick Schmidt at Kaiser Moanalua Medical Center in Honolulu after his triple bypass surgery nine days after suffering a cardiac arrest in the Honolulu Airport Jan. 15, 2019. He was wearing the Life Is Good shirt that was cut off him at the airport. (Photo by Jan Haag)
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“I didn’t have any fear of going through the surgery,” said Schmidt. “I just wanted to get better and feared more the discomfort of after the surgery than I did worrying about if the surgery would work or not.” 

Alvarado said that this was the first time he had performed emergency services in an uncontrolled environment. 

“In a hospital setting things are very controlled,” said Alvarado. “We have our equipment, we have everything we needed, but here it was myself, a firefighter and an airline employee, who knew exactly where to find an AED and how to apply the pads.” 

Alvarado said that if he hadn’t been running a little late, or had Maumau decided to visit his family another time, that sunny Jan.15  might have turned out differently. Schmidt, a retired photojournalist for The Sacramento Bee, agreed.  

“I’m really blessed to have had these strangers, who all of a sudden came to work together as a team, to save my life,” said Schmidt, who worked as a photographer for 40 years, including a year at the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, now called the Star-Advertiser. 

Claudio Alvarado and his partner Camron Calloway with Dick Schmidt. Alvarado tended to Schmidt and Calloway to Schmidt’s partner, Jan Haag, when Schmidt collapsed after a cardiac arrest in the Honolulu Airport Jan. 15, 2019. (Photo by Jan Haag)

Schmidt said that as a news photographer he has seen a lot of people in his life in similar situations, and not all of them survived. 

“It made me appreciate the people around me, the people I know, the people I love and the people who have gone before me.” 

Schmidt was not only moved by the actions of the people who helped to save his life that day but also for their support of his partner. 

“[Jan] knew my heart had stopped—she knew I was gone—and [Camron Calloway, Alavardo’s partner] came to her and put his arm around her and started consoling her,” said Schmidt. “And to me, that is just—I can’t explain how that moved me. 

“You do hear about these things happening and people with medical training help[ing] the victim, but to have somebody immediately go and help Jan who witnessed this and was still watching it happen—that’s just incredible to me.”

Haag, who stayed in the hospital with Schmidt, returned to Sacramento two weeks into the semester as Schmidt stayed in Honolulu. After two weeks in the hospital and two weeks recovering with friends who came from the mainland to care for him in a rental house in Pearl City, Schmidt was ready to go home. 

Much to Schmidt’s surprise, Pam Foster of the AED Institute had organized a Celebration of Life at the airport before his flight back to Sacramento. There many people who had helped Schmidt on Jan. 15 got the chance to speak. Maumau, the off-duty firefighter who performed CPR on Schmidt, began his speech by saying how grateful he was to see Schmidt alive. 

Dick Schmidt and Salesi Maumau, the then-Honolulu firefighter who performed CPR on Schmidt, at the Celebration of Life Feb. 15, 2019, for Schmidt at the Honolulu airport, one month after Schmidt’s cardiac arrest at the airport. (Photo courtesy of KHON-TV)

“This was a team effort,” said Maumau in a video recording from the ceremony. “It’s just very humbling to be here standing in front of you, Richard, and I’m happy to see you go home.”

Maumau went on to say that he had “just” done chest compressions that day, something Foster says is no small thing.

“Chest compressions are not a ‘just.’ Chest compressions are essential,” Foster said later. 

On Feb. 15, a full month after his cardiac arrest, Schmidt finally said aloha to Hawaii, successfully boarded Hawaiian Airlines flight 20 and flew home to Sacramento. 

“It took me 30 days to get to the point after the waiting and the surgery and the recovery,” said Schmidt. “But it did work, and 30 days later we came back home.” 


This wouldn’t be the last time that Schmidt would hear Maumau speak at a ceremony. On Nov. 22 in yet another airport in Sacramento Schmidt attended a ceremony for Maumau. Tucked away in the halls of the Sacramento International Airport, the former Honolulu firefighter returned to his hometown to become a part of the graduating class of 19-2 of Sacramento’s aircraft rescue firefighters with Schmidt and Haag in the crowd. They had been keeping in contact with Maumau since they had arrived back home, but Schmidt was amazed by how welcoming not only Maumau had been but also his family. 

“It was very impressive and very warm to be a part of—the Hawaiian word is ‘ohana’—to be part of their family,” said Schmidt, as he recalls being invited into the family photo at the ceremony. 

Schmidt and Haag are still in touch with Salesi and Eryn Maumau, who just welcomed their first child, Charlie Talanoa Maumau, into the world Jan. 16. 


In the months following his experience with Schmidt, Claudio Alvarado was hired first as an adjunct professor last summer and as of fall 2019 as a full-time nursing professor at City College. During his first week of teaching last fall, at the end of class a student approached him. 

“He comes up to me and he goes, ‘Oh, you know my brother,’” said Alvarado. “I’m wracking my brain, ‘How do I know your brother?’ and he says, ‘You and my brother helped that guy out in Hawaii.’”

The student was Maika Maumau, Salesi’s brother and now Alvarado’s nursing student. 

Schmidt said that while he has only known Salsei Maumau, Alvarado and those who helped him last January for a short time, he feels like they’ve known each other longer. 

“It’s really like I’ve gained a whole bunch of really close friends who really are so very close to me. It’s as if they are lifelong friends, and they just suddenly appeared a year ago.” 


Schmidt didn’t stay away from the sandy beaches of Hawaii for long. He and Haag returned in January 2020 to the same island of Kauai that they visited last year. 

“It feels good [to be back in Hawaii],” he said. “I’ve been here many times in my life, and I really love to be here, and it’s good to be back.” 

A year to the day of his cardiac arrest, on Jan. 15, 2020, Schmidt and Haag were once again returning to Sacramento. They were about to take the long walk through the Daniel K. Inouye International Airport, but the day was once again far from ordinary. They were met by two staffers from the AED Institute who walked them to their departure gate. 

“When we got there [departure gate] a little later, there were all these people there,” said Schmidt. “Hawaiian Airlines had arranged for them to be there—firefighters, airline personnel who helped in my rescue and saving a year earlier—for me to meet a lot of them that I hadn’t known before. It was quite a little welcome committee.”  

However, the welcome was just beginning as Schmidt was introduced to the Hawaiian Airlines employees who had helped them, including Tuiatua Tuiasosopo and Heather Tanonaka, as well as the man who had run to get the nearest AED machine, Chris Ohta. 

“It was very special to meet him for the first time exactly one year later,” said Schmidt of the emotional reunion. 

Schmidt said that many people had asked him if he was nervous to go back to the airport, but his feelings were just the opposite. 

“I was really looking forward to it because I knew I was going to see where all these miracles [happened] and all these strangers helped me out. I was really glad to go back, and I had no idea at that time how much more meaningful it would be.” 

Ohta walked Schmidt and Haag to their boarding gate and gave each of them one final hug. After bidding so many who had come to wish him well a fond aloha, this time Dick Schmidt made his way onto the plane and flew home once again. 

A happy 77th birthday to Dick Schmidt, as this was published on his birthday, Feb. 13.

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  • P

    PamFosterFeb 19, 2020 at 8:57 am

    Thank you so much for sharing Dick and Jan’s story. Hopefully it will teach others to step forward and help in an emergency situation. Aloha

  • C

    ChrisFeb 14, 2020 at 9:35 am

    A well-written story about a great guy. Keep up the good work. Former City Colle Express editor & former Sac Bee reporter, Mary Crystal Cage,.

  • M

    Marjorie OwensFeb 14, 2020 at 7:49 am

    Great story! I read this aloud while having our morning coffee and we were both inthralled.