9 honored during annual Sayre Foundation awards dinner

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KOHALA COAST — The medics were gone, on their way to Hilo Medical Center.

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KOHALA COAST — The medics were gone, on their way to Hilo Medical Center.

John Kapsky, a lifeguard of 35 years, was still at Honolii Beach, de-stressing after his efforts to resuscitate a kayaker whom he and others pulled from the water. That kayaker was now in the ambulance headed for the hospital.

The equipment Kapsky used in the rescue was still all over the ground, he said, and he set to work packing it up, including the automated defibrillator he used during the rescue.

“And I’m about to put it in the bag and as I zip the bag closed, there’s the sticker: ‘Equipment donated by Daniel Sayre Foundation.’”

Kapsky was one of nine emergency responders honored Saturday night during the 20th annual Daniel R. Sayre Memorial Foundation Awards Dinner and Fundraiser for their respective roles in five rescues around the island.

Those rescues included heroics that saved seven from debris-ridden waters, a heart attack patient brought back to life, an individual who fell 60 feet from an ocean cliff and a sea rescue at Mahukona.

The honorees included Kapsky; chopper pilot Paul Darryl; fire rescue specialists Chad Chun Fat, Mike Judd and Jason Robello; firefighter and emergency medical technician Shawn Watson; firefighter Michael Masuda and rescue watercraft operators Paul Tucker and Robin Fasciano.

But, Kapsky said, he came out to share his own gratitude.

“I didn’t come here tonight to receive this award,” Kapsky said after the ceremony at The Fairmont Orchid on the Kohala Coast. “I came here tonight to thank Mr. and Mrs. Sayre for what they do.”

The rescue he performed was unlike any other in which he had been involved. The kayaker, he said, was a man he’d known for 20 years.

“When I saw him flop out of his canoe, I knew who he was. When I saw him flop into the water and go face down and not get up again, I knew who he was. When I went to grab him, I knew who he was,” Kapsky said. “When I looked down at him and he was lifeless, I knew who he was.

“When I was working on him every inch of the way, I knew who he was. I thought of his daughter; I thought of his son; I thought of his grandson. And that’s what made it different from a professional rescue response where you don’t know the person … I was emotionally engaged on this one.”

In the past 20 years, the Daniel R. Sayre Memorial Foundation has raised $1.76 million, helping get emergency responders what they need to get the job done.

On a night dedicated to celebrating the impacts they’ve had on the lives they saved, the event’s honorees made special note of the impact the foundation has had on them.

“We’re just doing our job; we don’t do this to be recognized,” said Judd, who was honored for his involvement in resuscitating a heart attack patient and a cliff rescue. “The heroes are the Sayres and the people behind this organization and those who support it.”

Video presentations describing the five rescues often mentioned the role equipment paid for by the foundation had in the rescue, such as the defibrillator Kapsky used.

Public officials praised the foundation’s efforts, too.

“I think only once in a while, communities are lucky to have some people in the community and to make such a difference as the Sayres,” said Hawaii County Mayor Harry Kim during remarks to the hundreds in attendance. “And we were so lucky when the Sayres chose the Island of Hawaii to live.”

Gov. David Ige said the Daniel R. Sayre Memorial Foundation “is truly at the heart of organizing the community support for our firefighters and first responders in the Hawaii County Fire Department.”

“We work very hard, Mayor Kim and I, to support our first responders because we truly understand that they risk their lives to keep all of you safe,” he said. “And it’s foundations like this that provide that extra support, to provide training and equipment that oftentimes we’d like to provide and just don’t have the funds to do.”

Laura Mallery-Sayre and Dr. Frank Sayre created the Daniel R. Sayre Memorial Foundation after the death of their son, Danny. The 25-year-old died in 1997 during a hiking trip to the back of Pololu Valley near Kapoloa Falls.

Amid the praise for the work they’ve done, Sayre and Mallery-Sayre said it’s the community’s support that has made the foundation so successful.

“Because of you, we’re saving lives instead of recovering,” Mallery-Sayre told the crowd. “And it’s thanks to all of you that this has happened.”

The man Kapsky rescued survived, and two weeks after the incident, Kapsky said he got a call from the man’s daughter, calling from a hospital room in Honolulu thanking the lifeguard for what he did.

Kapsky said the defibrillator he used was a crucial component in saving the man’s life.

“There’s no question,” he said.

Mallery-Sayre said when she heard about Kapsky’s rescue, she called him on the phone, and he told her about the defibrillator that saved his friend’s life.

“And then we both cried on the phone,” she said. “You know, we the foundation, we the community, helped him to save his friend’s life … For me, that’s the greatest reward that Frank and I could get.”

Because of that, she said, a family still has a father and grandfather.

“We know from our own situation that when you lose someone in the family, that changes you forever,” she said. “And you try to make the best of it, but it changes you forever.

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“So when we know that the efforts that we are putting forth through the foundation and with the support of the community — total support of the community — helps to save a life, I think that is the ultimate compliment to our son’s memory.”

Email Cameron Miculka at cmiculka@westhawaiitoday.com.

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