WAIKIKI (HawaiiNewsNow) - Eight days ago, Rob Pickering had a heart attack. Then he went into full cardiac arrest. And it all happened while he was taking part in a swimming competition at the Duke's Ocean Fest in waters off Waikiki Beach.
On Sunday, the 58-year-old man was alive and well enough to return to the beach to thank the many people who saved his life.
"I've seen these guys for 30-some years, and they're always here. And I was just fortunate enough to have a great outcome when many don't," said Pickering. He and his wife have spent their summers in a condo here to beat the heat at home in Phoenix, Ariz.
Pickering was competing in his first Ocean Fest when trouble struck. Ocean Fest safety officials, including retired city lifeguard Dennis Gouveia, noticed.
"I saw him, in particular, falling back in the swim, and I knew this was a hard event, so I thought I should keep an eye on him," said Gouveia.
"Dennis came by and said, 'are you okay?' and I sort of waved him on," Pickering said. "After that, I remember nothing."
Pickering does not remember Gouveia bringing him to shore on his Jet Ski while lifeguards performed CPR. He doesn't remember being brought to the lifeguard tower, or up the stairs next to Duke's Waikiki restaurant, where lifeguards and paramedics fought to re-start his heart. He doesn't remember being taken in critical condition to Straub Clinic and Hospital, where he woke up two days later.
They're all quick to say that everyone had a hand in saving Pickering's life. "It was a link of survival with the lifeguards, the paramedics and the hospital," said ocean safety Capt. Paul Merino, who's in charge of Oahu's south shore lifeguards. "If it wasn't for everyone being a great team, Rob wouldn't be with us today."
"Everybody knew exactly what they needed to do, so I'm actually happy that he did the swim and they saved his life," said Pickering's daughter Lesli Knee.
"I know Paul and I know a few of these guys and I see them, but I don't really know them," said Pickering. "So for them to be out there every day, caring for the thousands of people who come to the beach -- I mean, its quite a commitment."
"We've known Rob for 25 years," said Merino. "He's been coming to Waikiki, sitting right next to our lifeguard tower. We've interacted with him. After work we've had drinks with him. We've just had a great time with Rob, and for it to have been him who had this incident happen, it couldn't have been more fitting that these guys got together and did a fantastic job."
According to the city's Emergency Services Division, the lifeguards who were directly involved were Curtis Cuba, Lamakani Holt, Spencer York, Dennis Coglietta, Eliot Beebe and Lt. Tyler Lau. EMS personnel included Tony Altomare, Jon Kusano, Michael Chan and Kea Smith. Kendall Rust of Aloha Surf Lifesaving and Gouveia were on Jet Skis.
Pickering is expected to make a full recovery. And he plans to enter the Ocean Fest again.
"I would encourage anybody who likes to swim and feel safe about it, you can't ask for a better venue than this," he said.