HIGHLANDS – In a heartfelt letter to three good Samaritans who helped save her husband’s life during a cycling event in September, Kathleen McGraw said she struggled to find the words to express gratitude.
For McGraw, “thank you” didn’t capture the emotions that overcame her when her husband, William, awoke in the hospital following a heart-stopping medical emergency he suffered on the side of Route 36 while participating in the annual Bike New York-sanctioned Twin Lights Ride.
Saying “thank you” couldn’t possibly sum up the tears of joy she swiped away when her two young daughters, Kathleen and Annie, and teenage son Liam rushed to William’s bedside to share a deep embrace.
“Thank you hardly seems like enough,” she said in the emotional letter, read aloud by Highlands Police Chief Robert Burton at a Jan. 16 government meeting filled with residents, police and fire department personnel and local EMS workers.
“We are looking forward to Christmas, the New Year, and hopefully many more holidays and birthdays and vacations and family movie nights and graduations and weddings. These dreams can exist because of your actions that day. We are forever grateful.”
Actions Speak Louder Than Words
For Kathleen, actions are more impactful than words ever can be, a notion that brought the McGraw family from their Hoboken home to the borough’s community center on a frigid winter evening to honor Alexandra Aiello, Claudio Ramirez and Capt. George Roxby by awarding the heroic trio of first responders with Lifesaving Medals.
During the Sept. 30 incident, William McGraw collapsed on the side of the highway approximately a half mile from the finish line located at the borough’s Huddy Park, across the street from Kranky Cycles and the Waterwitch Cafe on Waterwitch Avenue.
Burton explained that two nearby riders, Aiello and Ramirez, dismounted their bikes, raced to McGraw and began performing CPR in tandem.
A motorist who observed the incident reported it to a Highlands Police officer patrolling about a mile away from the scene. The emergency was reported and Roxby was the first officer to respond, treating McGraw with a defibrillator unit until the Highlands First Aid Squad arrived and transported McGraw to Monmouth Medical Center in Long Branch.
“I think this is a case of the training and experience taking over. I’ve performed CPR a few times now. In some cases it’s been unsuccessful. And in others, like this, it was successful. I’m just very thankful that the three of us could draw from the experience of working in stressful situations,” said Roxby, referring to Ramirez’s membership with the Roselle Fire Department, and Aiello’s employment history with the Metropolitan Transit Authority and NJ Transit.
What Might Have Been
According to Aiello, the Brooklyn resident has thought a lot about the events of Sept. 30, most prominently about how she almost didn’t attend the biking event, and what her absence might have meant.
“Up until about two days from the event I wasn’t even registered. My friend (Ayla) had to convince me to sign up, and I still wasn’t sure I was going to be accepted because I was such a late entry. And then transportation became an issue because I don’t live locally,” Aiello said. “This situation could have turned out much differently if any one of those hurdles had gotten in the way.”
Aiello went on to describe an ominous moment during the race when she witnessed a fellow rider get clipped by a passing motorist and how it placed her in an anticipatory mindset.
“Thankfully the guy didn’t need any help, but then I said to (Ayla) that I knew CPR, but I was thankful I didn’t have to use it. And looking back it’s the craziest thing, because there was nothing that could have prepared me for a few hours later when I would end up performing it. But this incident really put me on edge and in that state of mind.”
Hitting Close to Home
Just three and a half months removed from the incident, McGraw was a man of few words at the Jan. 16 awards ceremony, standing together with his saviors under the same roof for the first time and thankful for the time they’ve given him.
“I’m very appreciative of the people who saved me, and appreciative of the people these biking events bring together. These are people who enjoy life, who celebrate life and in my case, people who can save a life. Because of them I am still here with my family, and I can’t thank them enough for giving me that gift,” said McGraw, who added that prior to the Twin Lights Ride he had never visited Highlands, and quipped that after missing the easiest leg of the race, a downhill stretch from Route 36 to Huddy Park, he needs to return to for another biking excursion.
A return trip will be made simpler for McGraw and his family after Bike New York president Ken Podziba, who attended the meeting, told William he may participate in any future sanctioned event free of charge.
Roxby said the gravity of his actions, in cooperation with Aiello’s and Ramirez’s, didn’t sink in until the Jan. 16 meeting, when he came face-to-face with the entire McGraw family.
“When you enter this job you accept that you’ll have to be doing things like this. It’s something that can be perceived as extraordinary, but a lot of extraordinary things happen on the job,” Roxby explained.
“It’s not something you really think about until a night like this, when you see him with his wife and kids. And you start thinking about that letter, and their kids having another Christmas, another birthday, another wedding, and that really makes it hit home,” said Roxby.
“It makes me think about my own family and how lucky I am.”
This article was first published in the Feb.7-14, 2019 print edition of The Two River Times.
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