JUNE 15, 2017 – Just before one in the afternoon last Thursday, Todd Levine prepared a corned beef on a bulkie roll, and handed the deli sandwich to a man named Bill. Levine, who runs Larry Levine’s kosher market in Peabody, then went back to cut some more steaks behind the counter.
Bill, who Levine has seen a handful of times over the years, took a seat at a small round table, adjacent to a rack of gefilte fish jars. He talked with his caregiver, a woman in her fifties who sat opposite him. But two bites into the corned beef, the conversation stopped. Bill began to gasp and Levine reached for his phone and called 911.
Levine, who grew up in Malden, and has been cutting kosher meat since 1982, began barking out directions from the 911 attendant to Bill’s caregiver. When she tried the Heimlich maneuver, Bill collapsed to the floor. That’s when Levine told her to initiate mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.
Levine, who calls himself an MD, a meat dealer, knows his way around a steak or knish, and has served up Celtic luminaries like Dave Cowens and Hank Finkel, but has had no experience with cardiopulmonary resuscitation or CPR. Still, he knew that the man was running out of time. “He went from coughing to nothing. His face was blue and he wasn’t moving,” said Levine.
As Levine watched it all play out, two longtime members of his staff – who happen to be sisters – began to pray in Spanish. “I asked God to please help this man, and to please give him another chance,” explained Sandra Blas, who stood over the man and prayed. Meanwhile, her sister Sara Ago, stepped outside and began to pray and cry. “I asked God to help give him back his life,” said Ago, who grew up with her sister in Guatemala and now lives in Lynn.
As the workers prayed, the room fell silent. Then the caregiver, who did not identify herself, implored Bill to breathe. “She kept saying ‘Bill, don’t do this to me. Don’t you leave me,’” said Levine.
Amid the commotion, Bill took a breath and another breath, and by the time the paramedics arrived, he was standing. The paramedics asked if he wanted to go to the hospital but the man, who told Levine he was 89, declined.
Back behind the counter, the two sisters embraced and shed more tears, and thanked God. “We saw a miracle. I saw the guy dying. And I saw when he came back to life, so I believe it’s a miracle from God,” said Blas. “I learned a lesson because life is too short. And so we have to live and be happy, because life can go away even if you’re healthy. In a moment it can be over.”
After the man stood, Levine prepared another corned beef on a bulkie and handed it to his customer. Said Levine, “He walked out on his own and said ‘Mr. Levine, I’ll be back.’ ”