Mark Skelton was talking on the phone outside his Rancho Santa Margarita home Saturday night when his neighbor from across the street came running out, screaming his name.
Inside, Lourdes Saldivar's husband, Roberto, lay on his back in the den. Motionless. Lifeless.
Lourdes had gone upstairs for just a few moments. But when she returned downstairs, her life was thrown into a panic as her husband's life lay in the balance.
Skelton, a meat cutter at Stater Bros., dashed into the house and began administering chest compressions, the first domino in a series that saved Roberto Saldivar's life.
Skelton's quick actions, and those of the Orange County Sheriff's Dept., were praised by Orange County Fire Authority personnel that said they were nothing less than heroic.
Skelton, 52, received word Monday from the public affairs office of the OCSD that Saldivar "is off a breathing machine and breathing on his own," he said.
"In fact, I think he had a heart attack that evening," Skelton said Monday night.
Some type of foreign object—a fruit pit or perhaps a macadamia nut—had lodged in Saldivar's airway that apparently contributed to his duress.
According to Marc Stone, spokesman for the OCFA, when medics arrived on the scene and attached its defibrillator, Saldivar had flatlined—he was clinicially dead.
"There was no heart rate, no respiration," Stone said. "According to our guys, OCSD was doing absolutely perfect CPR. The fact that they still did chest compressions, which is most important in CPR, probably saved his life. If they hadn't, he probably wouldn't have survived."
Those chest compressions began with the hands of Skelton, who makes his living as a butcher.
"I was out front on the telephone with my father from out of state," Skelton explained. "His wife, my neighbor, came running out the front door, 'Mark, come help me!' I hung up and found him on his back not breathing. I immediately started doing chest compressions. Shortly thereafter, the sheriff was on the site and instructed me to keep doing what I was doing while he was getting a hard box that had the shock sensors ready."
That deputy was Brett Darnell, who was followed shortly by Henry Cho to the Calle Ranchera residence. They administered one shock to Saldivar before a second set of deputies arrived and took over the CPR effort from Skelton and Darnell. Those deputies were Isaiah Hicks and Courtney Ward, the latter on a ride-along; she works out of the Central Women's Jail.
Hicks and Ward continued CPR on Saldivar until OCFA medics arrived. They were able ot clear Saldivar's airway with a pair of forceps. Skelton thought it was a fruit pit or nut of some sort. They delivered a second shock to Saldivar's system and regained a pulse and heartbeat.
A life was saved.
"It's just one of those gut instincts," Skelton said. "You don't think about it, you just go and do it. The professionals were right behind me."