The patient was on the table awaiting heart surgery at Memorial Hospital in Belleville.
The surgeon, Dr. Bill Daily, was near 26th Street and Bond Avenue in East St. Louis. That’s where he hit the pothole.
The tire on the doctor’s 2007 Mercedes was flat.
It was dark, a Friday night, in East St. Louis — a city with historically one of the highest murder rates in the country.
It wouldn’t be all that surprising for a motorist in that predicament to find trouble. But what Daily found, he said, was grace.
“In this time where there is so much animosity over race and religion, I found people willing to help each other regardless of these things,” Daily said.
Daily limped his disabled Mercedes into a gas station at 26th and Bond Avenue. Onlookers directed him to an air pump, but the tire wouldn’t hold air.
East St. Louis resident Mike Austin was working at the station Friday night, pouring concrete for a wall. Austin, who is black, noticed the driver seemed distressed. Daily, who is white, was on the phone trying to get a ride to the hospital.
“I told him everything would be OK,” Austin said. “Then I said, ‘We will get you there, Doc.’”
Austin then personally drove Daily to the hospital — struck, he said, by the doctor’s concern for his patient.
“He was on the phone with his people while we were on the way there,” Austin said. “I was happy to help him help someone else.”
He was on the phone with his people while we were on the way there. I was happy to help him help someone else.
Mike Austin, East St. Louis resident who drove surgeon to hospital
Three hours later, Daily completed the surgery. He headed back to deal with his flat tire so he could drive back home to St. Louis.
Mohanad Nasser owns the ZX Gas Station at 2447 Bond Ave., where Daily left his car. Though it was nearing closing time, Nasser came and helped Daily change his tire.
“God created the world and us to help one another. We wish the best for each other,” said Nasser, a Muslim immigrant from Palestine.
After changing the tire, Nasser offered Daily a soft drink. The two exchanged phone numbers. Nasser is the father of two boys, one who suffers from asthma. Doctors do important work, Nasser said, but everyone deserves help in trying times.
“We need to teach the younger generations how to learn from each other, love each other and respect each other,” Nasser said.
We need to teach the younger generations how to learn from each other, love each other and respect each other.
Mohanad Nasser, who helped surgeon change tire
Both Nasser and Austin declined Daily’s offer of payment.
When Daily told his story to his colleagues, they asked if he was scared about being alone in East St. Louis with a broke-down vehicle. He said he wasn’t.
“Everyone was helpful and kind,” Daily said.
That’s no surprise to Austin and Nasser.
“East St. Louis gets a bad ticket, but we look out for our neighbors,” Austin said. “That’s all I was doing.”
Nasser said, “I have been here seven years and never had any problems. Treat people with respect and they will do the same.”
Daily said he found hope for humanity at a corner gas station in East St. Louis. And he wants people to know it.
“There was no fear. There was no trouble. I only found people who wanted to help and did it with such grace,” Daily said.
There was no fear. There was no trouble. I only found people who wanted to help and did it with such grace.
Dr. Bill Daily, cardiothoracic surgeon
The emergency surgery went well. The patient continued to recover on Saturday. Daily sent Nasser and Austin a text message to let them know.
On Saturday, Daily pondered whether he would take another route to the hospital next time to avoid potholes, but said the experience was worth the hassle of the flat tire.
“It underscores the importance of the kindnesses that we extend to each other,” Daily said. “You don’t know where you will find these unexpected kindnesses.”