The call wasn’t unusual for a doctor to receive at 10:30 on a Saturday
night – woman, mid-60s, heart attack. She had a 90 percent blockage
of an artery.
But what Dr. Huy Nguyen heard through the phone ... that was the unusual
part, the amazing part, the no-way-this-could-be-happening part. Nguyen
had been watching TV in his Irvine home, his three kids in bed.
The patient’s name, the emergency room doctor tried to explain, was
Sha-something, difficult to pronounce, Middle Eastern.
“He was butchering her name,” Nguyen said.
That’s when Nguyen heard the patient’s voice in the background.
It was Feb. 27, a night he will be talking about for as long as he is talking.
“Tell him I’m Mrs. Shah-Rais,” the patient said.
“I literally got chills when I heard her name,” Nguyen said.
He got to Hoag Hospital Irvine as fast as he could. He thinks it took eight minutes.
“When I heard her voice, everything came back to me,” Nguyen
said. “All those emotions came to my mind.”
Huy Nguyen, 43, and his family escaped to the United States from Vietnam
in 1979. Sadly, his father, Anh, who was a physician, had died of leukemia
in the months before they were able to leave.
The Nguyens were rescued in a small boat by a British freighter.
In 1982, they moved to Irvine. Nguyen remembers the first day of second
grade at University Park Elementary School. The teacher butchered his name.
There was another kid in the class with a name that also got butchered,
Bardia Shah-Rais. They bonded over their mispronounced names.
“He was a troublemaker ... but also outgoing, gregarious,”
Nguyen said of his new friend. “He made fun of my name.”
“I guess I did,” said Bardia Shah-Rais, who is now a vice president
of production for Fox Sports. “We became like brothers.”
The Shah-Rais family had also escaped. Cambyse and Shanaz Shah-Rais brought
their family to Irvine from Iran after a period of political upheaval.
Cambyse Shah-Rais became the father figure that Nguyen had lost.
“My dad would pick up Huy for basketball practice, or he would take
him to the doughnut shop,” Bardia said.
The two boys remember the days of mischief – toilet papering houses,
swimming in community pools without a pass. Once they ditched school to
go see an appearance by shock jock Howard Stern. When they were in fifth
grade, Cambyse drove the boys to the Inglewood Forum and dropped them
off for a Lakers game.
“He loved those boys,” Shanaz said of her husband.
On July 26, 1992, their lives changed forever.
Shanaz came home to find Cambyse on the floor. He had suffered a heart attack.
“It’s all like a blur,” she said through her tears.
An ambulance took him to what is now called Hoag Hospital Irvine. When
she couldn’t reach Bardia on the phone, she called Nguyen and told
him it was serious.
Nguyen drove around Irvine looking for his friend. Finally, he found him.
“He drove me to the hospital,” Bardia said.
Nguyen was standing with Shanaz and Bardia in the emergency room when the
“He said, ‘I’m sorry, we did all we could,’”
Bardia hugged his mother. Then he hugged his friend.
“Worst day of my life,” Bardia said.
Bardia Shah-Rais went to Seton Hall University in New Jersey and studied
communications. He got a job at Fox and rose up the ranks. On Friday,
he was in New York to tape a segment on Alex Rodriguez’s last game
as a Yankee.
Nguyen went to Chicago Medical School and studied cardiology.
“Medical school felt right for me,” Nguyen said.
The boys never lost touch.
Nguyen could have been a doctor just about anywhere in the United States,
but he chose Irvine.
“I wanted to stay close to home,” he said.
On Feb. 27, Shanaz ate dinner alone in her Irvine home. Bardia was in Switzerland
shooting a television segment about soccer.
Shanaz experienced what felt like a “burp in my chest.” Nothing
more than that. She noticed her upper lip was sweating.
When the strange feelings didn’t go away, she drove herself to the
Hoag Hospital emergency room.
She was having a heart attack, and her cardiologist was out of town.
She remembers asking, “Do you have a Dr. Nguyen?”
It just so happens that he was on call.
Nguyen raced to the hospital thinking about how Shanaz had lost her husband
in the same building.
He made a small puncture in her wrist, inserted a wire that ran all the
way to her heart and ballooned open her artery.
“It was as if my own son was there for me,” Shanaz said.
Nguyen stayed with her until 4 a.m. Then he brought his own mother to sit with her.
“I didn’t want her to be alone,” Nguyen said.
Shanaz is fine now. Nguyen persuaded her to stop smoking. She showed off
the nicotine patch he gave her.
“Who would have thought someday he would save my life?” she said.
Bardia said he doesn’t know how to repay his friend.
“There’s not a day goes by that I’m not grateful that
he was the guy to be there,” Bardia said. “He’s the
reason I’ve still got a mom.”
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Photo credit: Orange County Register, Leonard Ortiz.