WALNUT CREEK -- If Bob Hansen had driven even a block farther, his wife's cries for help may have gone unheard by the Walnut Creek couple that saved his life.
"It was just a series of miracles from beginning to end," said Marti Hansen, of that March day when her husband, Bob, had a heart attack while driving the couple home.
They had just turned off Ygnacio Valley Road when Bob Hansen clutched his chest and stopped breathing. Marti Hansen immediately got out of the car, called the police and began yelling for help.
Husband and wife Adolfo Peñaloza and Maura Kelley heard her screams as they sat in their nearby apartment. Peñaloza, at first, ran out without Kelley because the couple's 3-year-old son, Benjamin, couldn't be left alone. He found Hansen in the car and immediately started trying to do chest compressions.
With a neighbor watching their son, Kelley arrived and called 911, as she watched her husband with the assistance of two bystanders take Hansen out of the car and lay him flat on the road per instructions from Marti, who was on the phone with police dispatch.
Kelley asked whether anyone knew CPR and then remembered she did and quickly went to work. She started performing CPR and rescue breaths as she looked down at Hansen's blue face.
"I don't really remember everything, but I just started to focus," Kelley said. "I am almost embarrassed to admit this, but I remembered from training that you are supposed to sing (the disco song) "Staying Alive," to count compressions, so I was just singing to myself, and I just kept saying, 'Come on, buddy, breathe.'"
Soon, police and paramedics arrived, took over compressions, and Hansen was taken to the hospital.
Peñaloza and Kelley were shaken up and tried to get information on Hansen later that night, but because they weren't family, the hospital wouldn't tell them anything. So they went about their busy lives and heard through the grapevine that Hansen had survived.
A few weeks later, they learned that their actions were about to be known citywide. The pair were chosen to receive the Walnut Creek Police Chief's Award for their heroic efforts. They were honored in May at the department's annual awards ceremony.
"They did not hesitate to provide assistance to someone in need," said Officer Lee Herrington at the ceremony. "Their lifesaving efforts were successful, and because of that (Mr. Hansen) is with us today."
The accolades are hard for the couple to take.
"It's sort of weird because it doesn't feel like real life; it doesn't affect our everyday," Kelley said. "It was reactionary, and we just sort of did it. It's weird to be acknowledged for doing the right thing."
Part of what made Kelley and Peñaloza calm in such a stressful situation is that they have been trained for emergencies. The pair are some of the youngest Community Emergency Response Team members with leadership positions in Walnut Creek. They joined six years ago at Peñaloza's insistence because he likes to be prepared.
"I think he would have been a Boy Scout as a kid if he didn't grow up in Mexico," Kelley jokes.
In fact, growing up until age 11 in Mexico is how Peñaloza's awareness of earthquakes started. He has clear memories of the 1985 Mexico City earthquake that cracked a wall in his home. After after he moved to Southern California, he witnessed the Northridge earthquake in 1994.
"So I think I have always been aware of earthquakes, and it had an impact on me to be prepared," he said.
Peñaloza is now certified by the Federal Communications Commission to be a CERT-trained ham radio operator. And Kelley is a logistics chief for their area, meaning she would direct her sector's group during a disaster.
The pair met years ago in Southern California while both were working for California Pizza Kitchen. Peñaloza still works for the Walnut Creek location. Kelley went to night law school at John F. Kennedy University and now is a paralegal. She grew up in Lafayette and attended Carondelet High School.
Kelley learned CPR while working with the nonprofit group Girls on the Run, an after-school program focused on empowering young girls. And she taught Peñaloza CPR herself, thinking it was a good skill to have for their family.
In a twist of fate, the Hansens actually met the couple years ago, when Kelley and Peñaloza were canvassing the neighborhood telling people about CERT.
"We learned (Kelley) had gone to Fordham University, and so had our daughter," Bob Hansen said. "So we had met them before, but didn't know them until now, after what they did for me."
What makes Peñaloza, Kelley and the other helpers so amazing to Marti Hansen is that they ran to help that day in May.
"The thing I think distinguishes (them) is they are all civilians. It's not their job," she said. "We couldn't have been luckier to have them close by and for them to have the confidence to do what they did."
Contact Elisabeth Nardi at 925-952-2617 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Hometown: Walnut Creek
Claim to fame: This married couple was awarded the Walnut Creek Police Chief's Award for helping to save the life of a man who was having a heart attack. They also are longtime members and leaders for the city's Community Emergency Response Team.
Quote: "I don't really remember everything, but I just started to focus," Kelley said. "I am almost embarrassed to admit this, but I remembered from training that you are supposed to sing (the disco song) "Staying Alive," to count compressions, so I was just singing to myself, and I just kept saying, 'Come on, buddy, breathe.' "
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to get training
What: Walnut Creek is looking for more residents to be volunteer disaster service workers
When: Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) training will be held Monday evenings from Sept. 8-Oct. 20, with a final graduation exercise Oct. 25.
Where: The Sept. 8 class will be at City Hall; the remaining classes will be held at Tony La Russa's Animal Rescue Foundation, 2890 Mitchell Drive.
Cost: $25 program fee
Register: Online at www.walnut-creek.org/CERT or by phone at 925-256-3556. Space is limited, and classes fill up quickly.
More: To find a CERT in your community, go to www.fema.gov/community-emergency-response-teams.