May 6, 2019

Is a nurse ever really on vacation?

Med Center ER nurse becomes lifesaving hero for Sacramento man


UC Davis Medical Center nurses perform heroic acts, both big and small, every day as they care for patients. One Sacramento man can wholeheartedly attest to the fact that those nursing skills are not confined to the hospital or clinics.

Nurse hero Claudio Alvarado works in the Emergency Department, and also teaches clinical skills classes in his free time. Nurse hero Claudio Alvarado works in the Emergency Department, and also teaches clinical skills classes in his free time.

Dick Schmidt, a retired Sacramento Bee photographer, was just finishing up a relaxing Hawaiian vacation last January. He experienced firsthand the lifesaving abilities of emergency room nurse Claudio Alvarado in a check-in line at the Honolulu Airport.

Alvarado and his partner Camron Calloway were waiting for a Sacramento-bound flight when Alvarado saw Schmidt collapse over a luggage stand and heard the 76-year-old’s partner cry out in distress.

“No one was doing anything, so I just jumped in,” said Alvarado, who also teaches courses in basic life support at Travis Air Force Base. “He was still breathing, and still had a pulse. But then all of a sudden the color just left his face.”

Schmidt by now had no pulse. Alvarado and another man, off-duty Honolulu firefighter Salesi Maumau, sprang into action. The pair turned Schmidt onto his back and immediately started CPR.

“I asked a Hawaiian Airlines worker to get an AED (automated external defibrillator), and he was really quick,” Alvarado said. “He had the AED within about two minutes.”

An ICU nurse joined the trio and helped place the defibrillator pads on Schmidt to shock his heart back in rhythm.

Fortunately, the defibrillator and chest compressions helped to revive Schmidt. By the time paramedics arrived and placed Schmidt on a gurney, he was already talking and asking for his partner, Jan.

“In my 10 years as a nurse, I have never seen someone go from cardiac arrest to talking within 10 minutes. Never in my life,” recalled Alvarado.

Everything happened at the right time, in the right place, with the right people, said Alvarado.

Schmidt also acknowledged the lucky timing and life-saving measures that Alvarado helped lead. Just days after his collapse, Schmidt underwent a triple bypass at a nearby Honolulu hospital.

group from Honolulu Airport
Richard Schmidt (center right) and Claudio Alvarado (center left), along with their partners Camron Calloway and Jan Haag, met in person for the first time since Alvarado helped save Schmidt’s life last January in Hawaii.

“That dude is a hero,” exclaimed Schmidt. “The immediacy of strangers coming to my aid, so fast, was so beneficial to my recovery.”

Alvarado did not expect to mentally shift gears so quickly at the end of his Hawaiian visit. But emergencies are something he’s well prepared to handle.  He’s a clinical nursing instructor, in addition to his day job as a pediatric emergency room nurse.

“We do this day-in and day-out at the hospital,” Alvarado said. “It’s our job. Thankfully, that firefighter, the Honolulu airport worker and I were there and made a great team.”

Schmidt met Alvarado in person for the first time just last month in Sacramento. The two of them, along with their respective partners, Jan Haag and Calloway, had dinner together.

At the mention of Alvarado’s never-ending smile and warm, confident manner, Schmidt imagines that the UC Davis Medical Center nurse “looks like a savior” to every patient who sees him.

“What a gem of a human being,” Schmidt said.