When Los Altos Hills resident Florence Buatois was asked in 2012 to join the Silicon Valley Chapter's Board of Directors, she accepted the Red Cross leadership position without hesitation. After all, Florence had attended college in Switzerland, the country where the international Red Cross was founded more than 150 years ago.
"I was super honored," she recalls. "For people in Switzerland, the Red Cross is an institution. In the culture in that country, it's kind of like chocolate and watches."
Little did Florence know that joining her local Red Cross board in the United States would change her life. To be more precise, that joining would save her husband's life.
"As a new board member, the Red Cross had a requirement that I attend a CPR class," she recalls. "So I did that."
It wasn't long before Florence saw — firsthand — the value of the training the Red Cross regularly provides to healthcare workers, first responders, and the general public through its popular CPR classes.
About six months after completing the training, Florence was also completing a trip abroad to Switzerland. "It was nighttime, and I had just returned home after visiting my son in Lausanne," Florence says. "My husband and I were talking in our kitchen, and he didn't seem to be feeling well. So I asked him about it, he said he had a pain in one of his arms."
For Florence, her husband's response caused a different kind of pain: Having just completed her board-mandated Red Cross CPR class, she knew that arm pain was one common indicator of a heart attack.
A quick internet search confirmed the couple's worst fear — and led them to immediately call 9-1-1.
Within minutes, ambulance crews were transporting Florence's husband to Stanford Hospital, where he underwent emergency surgery. "Our surgeon told us later that my husband had the kind of arteriole blockage known as a 'widowmaker,'" Florence says.
In many patients, that kind of blockage leads to sudden death.
"I really think that my involvement with the Red Cross saved my husband's life," she says. "If I hadn't returned that night from Switzerland and if I hadn't taken that CPR course, he probably would have just gone to bed without any objection from me. If that had happened, I'm not sure he would have woken up."
Florence's term on the board of the Silicon Valley Chapter ended several years ago, leaving her with many fond memories. "It was a terrific group of people, and I really enjoyed serving in that role with the Red Cross," she says. "But one day I was asked to serve on the Modern Art Council, the fundraising auxiliary for the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art."
"Art is really my first love," Florence says, "so I left the Red Cross board when my term was up because I just didn't think I could be effective on both boards at the same time."
Florence could certainly leave her Red Cross position knowing that she had been effective. Among other contributions, she had played a leading role in organizing two very large "Petals of Hope" galas that helped the local chapter raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for disaster relief and other Red Cross activities in Silicon Valley.
"We worked like crazy to make those fundraising events happen, especially the first one because we organized it in only three months," Florence says. "It was a lot of work, but it was very rewarding."
She adds that her tenure on a chapter board of the American Red Cross was a wonderful complement to the admiration she felt for the international organization while living in Switzerland those many years ago.
"It's a fantastic, fantastic organization," she says. "I have a passion for the Red Cross because I have a passion for heroic efforts the organization makes to alleviate suffering."