This will be for me, always, the summer that Al, my neighbor and friend, came back from the dead.
He died in the early evening of July 23. I saw him, sprawled on his living room floor, still as stone, gray as cement, eyes clouded, no pulse, no breath, nothing.
Exactly five weeks later, big as life and full of life, he eased out of his daughter's car, gripped his shiny new walker, and with his wife, Katherine, at his side, stepped into his house and back into his life.
His continued presence in this world is a miracle.
This is what happened the night that Al DelCupolo died. He had been in the basement with Katherine. She was on her treadmill, something the doctor ordered, and he was quarreling with a stuck pipe. They walked upstairs together, he to phone a plumber and she to turn on the TV. She heard something, a gurgling, she said, and called to him. And when he didn't answer, she went looking for him.
And found Al slumped in a chair.
With one hand, she held his head up, and with the other, she dialed 911. Then waited for the EMTs to arrive.
They got there within minutes and breathed air into Al's lungs, and an ambulance soon followed, bringing a defibrillator which jump-started Al's heart. But there was the critical question of how long he had been without oxygen. Because after just minutes, brain cells begin to die.
There was more fear than hope in the room when Jon Olshaker appeared; Jon, who lives next door but is seldom home, who is the chief of emergency medicine at Boston Medical Center and had just sat down to dinner with his family.
He took charge. Signed a form. Rode in the ambulance with Al to Norwood Hospital. Spoke with other doctors, spoke with the family. And arranged to have Al transferred to Boston Medical, where he was placed in a medically induced coma, his body temperature lowered in an attempt to prevent brain damage.
If Jon hadn't been home? If he hadn't raced to help? If Katherine hadn't kept her cool and dialed 911 instantly? If the EMTs hadn't been quick to respond? If it were years ago when there were no defibrillators?
And if someone whose name we don't know or celebrate hadn't wondered why people who fall through ice and drown can sometimes come back from the dead, perfectly OK, we would be grieving Al now. We would have lost this good and kind man.
But the stars aligned. And in a world where so many things go wrong every day, everything went right.
Only 5 percent of people who suffer cardiac arrest outside a hospital setting survive. I've read this over and over.
But statistics and studies don't mean much until they relate to people you care about. Al is alive today and he is Al - no memory loss, no change in his personality, no residual damage - because of a treatment that has been proven effective but is not available to everyone.
Mild hypothermic therapy, lowering the body's temperature by just a few degrees, protects the brain by reducing its need for oxygen. Endorsed by the American Heart Association in 2005, it is still not standard procedure in specific kinds of cardiac arrest, although two studies, one in Europe and one in Australia, showed a significant increase in survival rates when hypothermia was applied.
It saved Al. He was dead. And then he was not.
More statistics: Of the more than 5,700 hospitals in this country, fewer than 4 percent have the equipment to induce hypothermia. Most of the big Boston hospitals have the tools and, according to Rich Serino, chief of Boston Emergency Medical Services, his department "is aggressively looking" to equip its ambulances.
It would be nice to think that God took a second look at Al and saw how much we need him here. How beloved he is.
But I think God works through people, and it was Jon Olshaker and Boston Medical Center that saved Al's life.
The night before he came home, Al looked out the window of New England Sinai Hospital, where he got the therapy that has put him back on his feet, and saw the moon full and bright and beautiful. "I felt so grateful to be alive and seeing it again," he said the next day.
I look at Al, bright and beautiful and so full of life, and I am grateful, too, to be seeing him again.