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US Open cardiac arrest victim resuscitated by medics

Man collapsed on 15th hole; first memory is waking up after defibrillation in ambulance

By Marcus Thompson II
The Contra Costa Times

SAN FRANCISCO — His was the comeback story of the weekend, the one Tiger Woods couldn't pull off. It had all the elements — struggle, survival, even the Father's Day touch — that make Sundays at the U.S. Open special.

But you won't find Salahuddin Ghori's name anywhere on the leaderboard. He wasn't even at Olympic Club on Sunday. Instead Ghori, 61, was at his Modesto home watching the championship round with his son.

"When I get better," Ghori said. "I'm going back to Olympic Club and I'm going to put yellow and white roses down at the 15th hole."

That's the spot where Ghori suffered a heart attack Thursday during first-round action at the Lake Course. He was unresponsive for several minutes — perhaps even clinically dead — until the paramedics jumpstarted his heart with an automated external defibrillator on the ride to nearby Seton Medical Center.

On Saturday, he was released from the hospital, his clogged arteries cleaned out via coronary angioplasty. Thanks to quick medical attention and some very good fortune, it was a great Father's Day.

"I'm not a very emotionally open person, but I had moments where I cried by myself," said Ghori's son, Zaid, 30, who had purchased the Open ticket for his father for $110 off Craigslist days before.

Ghori was only at Olympic Club as a Father's Day gift from his son. Zaid, knowing his dad was a golf junkie and huge fan of Vijay Singh, figured sending him to the major tournament would be the perfect gift. Little did they know just how perfect.

Having a rough time since immigrating to the U.S. in January 2011, Ghori had been contemplating a return to his native India. Had that been where those blocked arteries manifested, son figures the outcome would've been much different.

"It's good that this happened now and it happened here," he said. "If he had gone to India and this happened, we would have lost him."

The Ghoris' appreciation for the U.S. Open setup, for the Seton Medical Center, for a stranger named John Paul, for the United States - it all makes sense when the whole story is revealed.

A native of India, Ghori practiced medicine in Nigeria and Saudi Arabia as an emergency room physician. But he isn't licensed to be a doctor in America. He said he found it hard to support himself and his wife, Reshma, who was a pediatrician in Nigeria, since they immigrated here in January 2011. The former doctors don't even have medical insurance.

A few odd jobs here and there allow Ghori to pitch in. But he said his son, who is American-born and works in Oakland helping international students pursue higher education, bears the burden. That's why Ghori, after nearly four years of trying to make America his home, wanted to go back to India.

"If anything happens, the whole thing falls on him," he said of his son. "A parent is very worried about what happens to their kids. If he's spending everything on the parents, what happens to him?"

Zaid, aware of his dad's stress, still doesn't want him to leave. Part of the reason he went the extra mile this Father's Day was to give his dad a morale boost. He said he remembers how their house in Nigeria was littered with his dad's golf trophies. And he knows his dad is a die-hard Singh fan.

You can imagine how excited Ghori was as he took off for Olympic Club early Thursday. So excited he took pictures of himself, dressed and ready to go, on his cell phone before leaving the house.

Upon arrival, he walked straight to the ninth hole to see Singh. Ghori gasped when he saw him tee off at 10, cheered when he birdied 13. It was on 15 when Ghori decided he would start following Tiger Woods, but not until he saw Singh on the green at 15.

So Ghori, hustling for one last close-up of his favorite golfer, started up a small hill.

"I remember running and then that was it. I blacked out," Ghori said. "I woke up in the ambulance when they shocked me."

Ghori fell to the ground. He was limp, not breathing, faint pulse.

"That was terrible," Chris Gold, caddie and manager for 14-year-old Andy Zhang, said Thursday. "I didn't want (Zhang) to look at that. They were trying to get him back to life. We went over there and Vijay was over there, and Zach (Johnson) was over there praying. It was sad."

Ghori was fortunate to have collapsed near Dr. Thomas Hazelhurst, a board member at Seton Medical Center. He performed CPR at the scene. A man named John Paul, who Ghori had met on the BART ride over to Olympic Club, rode with Ghori in the ambulance.

On the way to the hospital, Ghori flatlined. After he was revived, doctors discovered three blockages, all cleared in a surgery performed by Dr. Felix Millhouse at Seton.

"The doctors said I am one of the very, very, very lucky ones," Ghori said. "Less than five percent of people actually survive."

So Ghori's heart is on the mend, his life saved, thanks to a series of fortunate-though-terrifying events. A golf tournament with all the proper measures in place. A hospital that valued the life of a patient over his inability to pay. A stranger who made sure he wasn't alone.

And it all started with a Father's Day present from his son. Which is why, on Sunday, Ghori returned the favor and gave his son a gift.

"I'm not going back to India," he said he told his son. "I'm going to stay here with him. He's very good to us."

Copyright 2012 Contra Costa Newspapers
All Rights Reserved

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