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Pharmacist praised for saving a life

BANKS — Sharon Hundley had just stepped into the Banks Pharmacy for a moment to pick up her husband's prescription while he waited in the car outside. It might have been the last time she'd see her husband alive, if not for the pharmacist she was about to greet.

"When I came out, he was dead," Sharon said of her husband, Bill Hundley, who had a heart attack last April while she was inside the pharmacy.

She scrambled back into the store shouting for help and shaking from a sudden rush of adrenaline. The pharmacist, on the other hand, retained his composure.

"I'm not one who gets excited easily," said pharmacist Phil Darrah, who remembers calmly telling his staff to call 911 and walking out to begin CPR.

It was all a bit more dramatic for Sharon, though. "In my mind, I almost saw him leaping over the counter," she said.

By the time Darrah was able to get Bill's pulse moving again, if only faintly, Sharon had already called six of their 11 kids to tell them their dad was dead. Time moves slowly during CPR, Darrah said, but it only took about a minute of chest compressions before he could hear Bill taking shallow gasps.

Washington County Sheriff's deputies had arrived by then, and Darrah told them matter-of-factly, "It's your turn."

"I let them take over and I went back to work," Darrah said. Just another day at the office.

As one might expect, though, Sharon was quick to call him a hero, a label from which Darrah recoils into modesty.

A hero, he said, is someone who risks his own life to save another. "Me, I just did my job. I did what I was trained to do."

Darrah has training to administer vaccinations, which comes with CPR training, he said. He thinks any pharmacist, or any person, with similar skills would have done the same thing.

But Sharon remains unconvinced. "Like Wal-Mart would have saved my husband," she said. Even Bill, who said he's been trained in CPR himself, sometimes wonders whether he'd have the gumption to follow through.

Regardless of any humility or heroism, Sharon said she's grateful they were at the right place at the right time. "I have gotten three more months of my husband that I didn't have before," she said. And for that, she and Bill will continue frequenting Darrah's pharmacy, she said, even though it's outside of their insurance network.

Darrah, 58, seems content to simply keep a customer.

After all, he said, running an independent pharmacy is tough business without the buying power and advertising capacity of big chains. Most drugs he sells cost more than what insurance companies will pay him, so he sells some gifts and over-the-counter drugs in hopes of making up the difference.

"I'm not going to get rich at this," Darrah said. "But I feel good doing my job."

Better, anyway, than he did during the 15 years he spent working for a chain pharmacy before buying the Banks shop in 2005.

Marion Steinbach and her husband, former Banks Mayor Howard Steinbach, started the operation in 1985 out of a corner of the town's grocery store. But 20 years later, Darrah said, Marion wasn't sure how to face impending requirements that pharmacy files be computerized. She still used a rotary phone, a typewriter and a cassette answering machine to conduct the business, so a digital switch simply wasn't in the cards.

Hoping to realize his longtime goal of having his own shop, Darrah approached her, and they struck up a deal. Marion still visits the pharmacy, now moved next door, and Darrah keeps her old devices on display. He tries to keep the pharmacy much like she and Howard did: focused on the community.

"We treat many of our customers like they're family," Darrah said. "I tell all the little old widow ladies that they're now my mother and I'm their son and I'll take care of them like it."

And while Bill Hundley is no little old widow lady, Darrah certainly took care of him.

Phil Darrah, 58, works behind the counter of his pharmacy in Banks on Wednesday. Darrah helped save customer Bill Hundley's life when Hundley had a heart attack outside the pharmacy in April. The Oregonian / Dillon Pilorget