What would you do if you came upon a person in the backcountry who wasn’t breathing? Would you know how to save them? Would your CPR training kick in, or would you freeze? Joan Holland, a Saratoga resident and Tahoe City second homeowner, found out the hard way.

While hiking in the Cupertino area last October, Holland, three of her children, and a friend came upon a 73-year-old man collapsed on the trail. His breathing had stopped and his family was in shock and didn’t know what to do. Holland, 45, immediately began CPR with both compressions and breathing while the rest of her hiking crew jumped into action. Her friend Jan ran to a higher elevation to locate cell service. Her 20-year-old son, Tyler, ran down the mountain to the park rangers’ house to get emergency assistance. Her other children, Cameron, 13, and Jenny, 15, went to meet the paramedics on the trail to direct them back to the scene.

Holland continued CPR for more than 10 minutes. Given the physical challenges of doing chest compressions correctly, this is an arduous task. Fortunately, Holland had recently thru-hiked the 165-mile Tahoe Rim Trail and was in good shape.


Eventually a ranger arrived and took over breathing as Holland continued with chest compressions. Soon more paramedics arrived, but still Holland continued the compressions as the EMTs applied shocks to the patient with a defibrillator before hooking him up to a compression machine, finally releasing Holland of her duty.

Unfortunately, the man did not survive. But at least his family was consoled by the fact that while they felt helpless, another family came along and did their best to save him. And for the Holland family, while the outcome was not as they had hoped, they had the training to make the attempt, which is all that you can do. Holland was not only up-to-date on her first aid and CPR, but she’d made sure that all of her children were trained as well. They all knew what to do when the time that you hope never arrives, arrives.

On Nov. 10, Holland received the California State Automobile Association (AAA) Rescuer of the Year Award for Northern California for her actions. She selected the North Tahoe Firefighters Association to receive the $10,000 award, which honors ordinary citizens who do something extraordinary by donating the money to a nonprofit organization of the recipient’s choice.

When asked why she chose a Tahoe organization to receive the money instead of one where she lives, Holland said, “We always loved Tahoe. We’ve been skiing there for a long time. And I like that the donation will make a bigger impact in a smaller community.”

Folks in Tahoe should applaud her generosity, and use it as a reminder to get up to date on their CPR and first aid skills. You never know when you might need it.


  • Tim Hauserman

    Tim Hauserman latest book is “Going it Alone: Ramblings and Reflections from the trail” published in 2022. He also wrote the official guidebook to the Tahoe Rim Trail, the 4th edition of which was published in 2020. His other books include “Monsters in the Woods: Backpacking with Children” and "Gertrude's Tahoe Adventures in Time." Tim has lived in Tahoe City since he was a little tyke and continues to be amazed with the beauty of Lake Tahoe. His former English teachers, on the other hand, are probably amazed that he became a writer. Contact Tim at writeonrex@yahoo.com

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