By T. Anthony BellJuly 3, 2013
FORT LEE, Va. (July 4, 2013) -- In the everyday experiences of our lives, how improbable is the notion that our being could somehow be impacted by one among the masses of people we see but are oblivious to every day?
Considering the mathematical odds, the chances are remote that two strangers, figuratively worlds apart, could collide in a fateful purpose at any given time.
Kevin R. Gareau Jr. might disagree. Despite the odds, the Fort Lee Department of the Army Civilian Police officer believes that things happen for a reason, and there is divine purpose behind some occurrences.
Or else he never would have shopped at a store he doesn't frequent, thereby helping to save the life of Bobby Emory.
On June 25, the two met for the first time during an awards ceremony here to honor the officer -- their lives forever linked after Gareau's dogged performance of cardiopulmonary resuscitation to help revive Emory more than a year earlier at a Colonial Heights department store.
"I just had to shake his hand," said Emory, a Colonial Heights resident. "The man who saved your life, you can never get him out of your mind. You wake up and you have him in your mind all the time. Every time I open my eyes in the morning, I'm thankful I'm still here."
A 66-year-old Navy veteran and divorcee, Emory speaks with a casual and calm Southern drawl. The gray-haired, goateed father of three adult children is an avid gardener and has a very close relationship with his daughter, Shannon Jarratt, who said she always saw her father as "indestructible."
Gareau, a Marine veteran and native of upstate New York, has spent eight years at the Fort Lee police department. His looks are worthy of a Marine poster and his accent lingers on despite his many years of residency here. The 31-year-old has two daughters and a girlfriend. His mother, Betty Smith, said his thoughtfulness is such that she isn't surprised at his random presentation of flowers or cards. "He is sentimental like that," she said.
Gareau also has deep feelings about destiny, fate and purpose. In this particular case, he said his thoughts and beliefs rest on his improbable appearance at the Marshalls department store.
"My whole purpose of going there was to try and find some running shorts," he said of his spur-of-the-moment visit March 26, 2012. "I couldn't find any shorts I liked. That's the thing that kind of gets me. Something told me to hang out (there). I had no purpose to be there. I looked at the shorts. They didn't have anything. I just hung out in Marshalls. I was walking around looking at some of the housing stuff."
Gareau was roughly five minutes into browsing when he heard someone over the public address system call for help at a particular part of the store.
When he arrived at the scene, Gareau said he saw "12-13 people standing around" over an unresponsive Emory and one man tending to him the best he could.
Telling the man he was a police officer, Gareau relieved him and began CPR. He said he confidently went about his task as a result of his extensive police and military training, never questioning whether his skills were up to par.
"It all came back to me," he said. "Everything went perfect -- head tilted, chin lifted, chest compressions and rescue breaths. It all went perfect."
That perfection, however, didn't revive Emory. His lips were blue, and there was no pulse. Undaunted, Gareau continued to press on with unshakable resolve, as if he was at war refusing to accept the word "surrender."
"I kind of zoned out," he recalled, estimating that his chest compression output was more than 60 per minute for at least 10 minutes. "I said to myself, 'I'm here and I'm not going to stop until someone pulls me off of this guy.'"
Locked into saving Emory's life and mostly oblivious to what was going on around him, he sensed, however, the hopefulness -- and helplessness -- of those who hovered above him. One lady, recalled Gareau, uttered the words, "'We can't do anything. Let's pray.'"
The crowd, said Gareau, formed a circle around the toiling rescuer and the dying Emory and called upon higher powers to intervene.
When the paramedics arrived, Gareau continued with chest compressions, since he was trained "to continue giving CPR until you're told to stop, or someone else relieves you," he said, noting "I knew I was doing it properly."
The emergency personnel used a defibrillator in an attempt to shock Emory's heart back into operation while Gareau continued the chest compressions. It didn't work. They packed him onto a gurney and into the ambulance, and shocked him again.
And again and again --seven times in total.
"I don't think dad's heart starting beating until he was halfway to the hospital (Petersburg's Southside Regional Medical Center)," said Jarratt at the awards ceremony, noting she got news about the incident while at work and recalled "crying and screaming" on her way to the facility. Emory said he was eventually evacuated to Richmond's Medical College of Virginia for further treatment.
"I had three stents put in," he said of this three-week hospital stay, "and during his effort to save my life, he (Gareau) broke six ribs. The pain I endured is nowhere near the pain my family and friends would've suffered had I passed."
Jarratt knows how her life would have changed. Her father had lived with her prior to his heart attack, and she hardly ever contemplated life without him.
"His birthday wouldn't have happened," said Jarratt. "Father's Day wouldn't have happened. I think about him (Gareau) certainly, because he's the reason why my dad's here."
Jarratt went on to express how she felt meeting the person who she befriended on Facebook to keep him abreast of her father's condition and whom Emory had written letters to over the past year.
"It's wonderful to see him; wonderful to see them come together and finally see each other for the first time," she said. "It was just an amazing experience."
It was more amazing for Gareau, who reasoned that Emory may have suffered his heart attack at home alone while his daughter was at work rather than at a store where he just happened to be browsing around.
"It's mind-blowing, honestly," he said. "I feel we were put in that situation at that exact time. There was a reason he was there and there was a reason I was there.
"Obviously, the reason I was there that day was to help save this man's life. I think its crazy, kind of God's way of putting two people at the right place at the right time and letting something like that evolve the way it did.
"Like I said, my reason for being there, I should have been in and out of that store in five minutes and ended up hanging out. I don't know why I hung out. Now I know why. It was for that reason. That's the reason I was in that store that day."
Gareau earned the Civilian Award for Humanitarian Service for his deeds. U.S. Army Garrison, Fort Lee Commander Col. Rodney Edge presented the award during the ceremony attended by many of his peers. Jarratt said Gareau is deserving but it will never be enough.
"He gave my dad back to me that day," she said. "How do you repay somebody for that?"