Saving a life, all in a day's work for Evan Carlton

High school senior saves the life of a stranger

Click on photo for larger image and caption.

By Megan Rawlins

The story could have ended in so many different ways, few of them good. But as it stands, the life of a grandfather was saved and Evan Carlton, a senior at Mid-Peninsula High School in Menlo Park, can add "hero" to his resume.

The event, as Evan has told it countless times, occurred after a Sharks game in the middle of March.

"I'm a huge Sharks fan," says Evan, a resident of Menlo Park. "My girlfriend was out for spring break, so we went to a game. It was crazy; I was standing cheering, swinging my shirt above my head. It was a great game."

When it ended, Evan and his girlfriend funneled out of the stadium with the crowds and crossed the street to the San Jose train station, where Evan says they waited for the last train of the evening.

On the platform, he exchanged some small talk with an older man, Paul Hoekenga of Redwood City, who was accompanied by his young grandson. When he turned back to his girlfriend, Evan says, the older man, without notice or warning, collapsed to the ground and appeared unconscious.

"I thought it was narcolepsy," he says. "He was making this strange, snoring sound in his throat. A couple of us tried to slap him awake, but after 30 to 40 seconds, we knew something was really wrong."

Evan is a lifeguard at the Menlo Swim and Sport pool at Burgess and a lifelong athlete, both of which he says have conditioned him to react quickly. He began mouth-to-mouth resuscitation while another bystander began chest compressions.

"While I was still thinking it was narcolepsy ... I began going over the steps of CPR in my head," he says, "but once you start, you just do it; you don't think about it."

A call to the paramedics and eight broken ribs later (from chest compressions), Mr. Hoekenga, was loaded into an ambulance, and Evan and his girlfriend were carried by the tide of Sharks fans into the northbound train.

"I was pretty sure he'd died," Evan says. "It just didn't look good."

Evan came home and went on with his life: going to school, working at the pool, volunteering at a homeless shelter. The incident bothered him for a week or so, he says, but "people die all the time."

Over a month elapsed, but one morning there was a piece in the San Jose Mercury News, an open letter by one Paul Hoekenga looking for the young man he said saved his life.

Evan responded and he and Mr. Hoekenga met at Jeffrey's Hamburgers in Menlo Park.

"He's a really great guy," Evan says. "By all accounts he should have died. Apparently the CPR kept him going just long enough."

Evan maintains he's not a hero, and he's visibly uncomfortable with the moniker. He's tired of talking about it and would much rather talk about football or finishing high school.

"I'm not a hero; I'm just a high school senior," he says. "Anyone would have done it. If you know CPR and someone needs help, you just do it. I mean, that's how it works."

Mr. Hoekenga disagrees; Evan says he's insisted on helping him pay for college.

Many who know the story are piling onto the "hero" bandwagon. Evan makes a crack about becoming something of a golden boy at church and says his manager sent a letter about the incident to people who use the pool.

"A woman came up to me at the pool the other day," Evan says. "She says, 'I know you. You saved that man's life.'" Evan says he smiled and went back to his job, watching the swimmers.

INFORMATION: CPR and first aid training is available locally through All Care Plus, located in Palo Alto. Classes are Wednesday evenings and require registration through the Web site or by calling 424-0204.


Like this comment
Posted by Patti Fry
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jun 3, 2009 at 8:33 am

This fine young man knew what to do, and he stepped forward to save a life. He deserves boatloads of praise!

Each one of us could be confronted at any time by a situation in which a life is a risk. It behooves us to learn what to do, too! I would like to point out that life-saving skills can be learned through classes offered by the nonprofit American Red Cross - including babysitter training, lifeguard training, first aid, CPR, and disaster preparedness. The closest site is in Palo Alto. Information about class schedules and enrollment can be found at

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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