AKRON, Ohio – The mailman finished his afternoon deliveries in an unassuming way, betraying no sign that anything out of the ordinary had occurred save for the blood on his uniform and the cut on his lip. Back at the post office, he was greeted with cries of disbelief: "Did you hear? Keith saved another life today."
Such is a day in the life of Keith McVey, the postal worker with the bronzed skin and the alert blue eyes who can't walk down the street without being honked at by passing cars filled with his admirers — or, apparently, without saving a life.
"He's a rock star in our eyes," says Tina Starosto, a receptionist at King Apartments, where a sign declaring "Keith Our Hero" is prominently tacked to the office wall.
Over the years, McVey, 53, has helped saved three people while on his mail route, earning a reputation as the plainclothes superhero of this small neighborhood near a lake. Last week, he threw aside his bundle of mail to perform CPR on an unconscious man on the side of the road. Two years ago, he pulled a drowning girl from the lake. And nearly 20 years ago, when a teenager tried to take his life by jumping off a bridge on a snowy winter day, McVey, unable to stop him from jumping, covered the teen with blankets and helped keep him alive until an ambulance arrived.
McVey was embarrassed about displaying the many awards and newspaper clippings that showcase his acts of derring-do for fear of, as he put it, "tooting my own horn."
It usually starts, as most feats of heroism do, with a cry for help.
Last week, it came from the back of a pickup. A panicked man was trying to revive his unconscious friend.
"He said his buddy wasn't breathing," explains McVey. "I thought, well, let's see what's going on. Sometimes you just have to act."
McVey, who is trained in CPR but had never actually performed it on anyone before, began chest compressions while another bystander checked the man's wrist for a pulse. They worked on him for several minutes as a crowd began to form around them. Seconds slowed into minutes, but McVey knew he had to keep going until the ambulance arrived.
"Pretty soon the woman said, 'I've got a pulse, I've got a pulse,'" he remembers, smiling. "And shortly after that, he started breathing on his own."
The man whom he saved was taken to a hospital and later recovered. He told police he did not want his name released to the media.
McVey's legend around town grew.
"Another carrier came in and really nonchalantly said, 'Keith saved another life,'" says his co-worker, Memory Valentine. "And I got up and walked outside, and I saw he had what looked like blood on his shirt and a mark on his lip. And I said, 'Keith, what happened?'"
But performing CPR was a simple affair compared to McVey's harrowing experience in the lake two summers ago. On a hot afternoon, he was depositing mail in metal boxes along the shore when the screams began. This time, they were coming from a 13-year-old girl, who was flailing in the water about 70 feet from the lake's edge.
Then, to his horror, she disappeared beneath the surface.
"I screamed at her, 'Hold on, hold on, I'm coming,'" he says, "to give her a little strength to try and stay above the water."
He kicked off his heavy leather shoes, threw his mailbag to the ground and dove in while the girl's baby sitter and younger sister screamed and sobbed.
McVey is not a trained lifeguard, nor is he a particularly talented swimmer. When he reached the girl, she grabbed hold of him and immediately pulled him underwater.
"At that point I thought, this is a little dicey," he says. "But I pried her off me, sent her up to the top as best I could, and she grabbed onto me again."
It was like that the whole way in: McVey would be dragged down by the frightened girl, then come up for a breath of air. He swam the backstroke, stopping every few moments to feel for the lake bottom with his foot.
"It wasn't textbook lifesaving, but it was enough to get the job done," he says.
Having handed the girl over to paramedics, the postman squeezed the water out of his socks, slipped on his shoes and hauled his mail sack over his shoulder once again, still in his wet clothes.
"I mean, he went on with his mail-carrying job, soaking wet," Starosto says in amazement. "He didn't think twice about it. Just kept right on going."
McVey simply shrugs when asked whether, given the day's extraordinary events, he might have taken the afternoon off. The thought hadn't occurred to him. Really.
"Because if I didn't finish up, they'd have to take all my mail back," he explains. "I didn't want anybody to have to pick up my slack."
The recent accolades make him feel a bit uncomfortable, but he understands the attention. After all, he's brought three lives back from the brink of death. Is it simply coincidence? Was he simply in the right place at the right time?
"I'm not sure, but after three times, I'm beginning to think there might be a little divine intervention of some sort," he says. "It is kind of eerie."
Whatever it is, residents of this lakeside community are simply happy to have him around. You know, just in case.
"I think they should have him wear a cape when he walks around here," Starosto says, laughing. "So they'll know to holler for him when they need help."