AMBLER — June 24, 2019, may stand out as the day the greatest save was ever made on the pickleball courts at Ricciardi Park.
It was the day two members of what Ambler resident William E. Emery III terms his “pickleball family” — Alan Kober and Julie Singer — helped save his life.
As Kober recalls, he had gone that day to Ricciardi Park, where people play pickleball in pickup games, something he and his wife, Joan, have done for about four years.
“When I got there, Will was playing in a game and people were rotating in and out,” Kober said. “I had never met him before,” but rotated in as his partner.
“We had won the point. He was serving and he went to pick up the ball, leaned over and didn’t move,” Kober said. “I said I’ll get the ball, and then he tried to grab the chain-link fence and started to fall, and I tried to break his fall.”
“It was extremely terrifying, because Will was unresponsive,” said Singer, who was playing in the adjacent court. “I shouted for someone to call 911 immediately.
“I was emotional and scared, but I took a deep breath and Alan and I started chest compressions,” which “I learned through the YMCA training class.”
A child care worker at the Ambler YMCA, the Ambler resident said she previously knew Emery, a co-worker at the Y.
“Singer had a brace on her wrist, so I said let me try,” Kober said, and he took over, following the instructions of a 911 operator for the CPR cadence.
“Nine people were there and everyone helped,” Singer said. “Somebody ran to get Will’s health insurance card, his license, another cut his shirt off; we were telling him we loved him, telling him he can make it and fight for his son and holding his hand.”
In four or five minutes two policemen arrived and gave him a shock with an AED (defibrillator) and continued the chest compressions until the EMTs arrived, said Kober, who helped carry Emery on a stretcher up the steps to where the ambulance was parked.
Emery was transported to Abington Memorial Hospital, where, he says, he awoke several days later to find out his heart had gone into atrial fibrillation, leading to cardiac arrest.
“A defibrillator was implanted in me to monitor and restart my heart should it be necessary in the future,” he said.
A retired federal agent and former Philadelphia police officer, Emery was used to being on the other side of life-saving measures.
During this law enforcement career, he acknowledged, he was “instrumental in various acts of kindness,” including an emergency childbirth and the transport of critically injured people to hospitals.
“I am blessed to still be alive, and am very appreciative of my ‘pickleball family,’” Emery said. “I owe an unpayable debt specifically to Alan and Julie, who were very instrumental in keeping me alive until the EMTs arrived.”
“It was quite an experience,” said Kober, a retired chemical engineer and Dresher resident who learned CPR during the 35 years he worked at Rohm and Haas, where it was “part of the safety training.”
“I just sort of reacted almost instinctively,” he said. “I was a plant manager for many years and you have to think on your feet. Maybe the adrenaline kicked in and I just started doing CPR.”
Singer said she was “too upset and emotional to play,” so she took a break from playing pickleball, but went back after Emery recovered and returned to the courts.
Having been a successful basketball, football and tennis player in the past, Emery said, he took a pickleball class about six months ago at the Ambler YMCA, where he met a number of those who play at the Ricciardi courts.
“It took a while, but we warmed up to each other, and I, being the minority (African-American, 6 feet tall, 260 pounds), was accepted and welcomed into the group,” Emery said.
“Fast forward, my pickleball family saved my life — they took care of me, watched over me, contacted and communicated with my son, ensured that I received medical attention, visited me at the hospital and welcomed me back with open arms upon my return to Ricciardi Park,” he said.
“My pickleball family embraced me as if I were a blood relative to each and every one of them. I consider them my ‘brothers from other mothers’ and ‘sisters from other misses,’” Emery said.
“I believe that the bond that occurred via pickleball at Ricciardi Park that day will forever keep us connected.”