Marathon Elvis helps fellow runner

It was a good thing Elvis had not left the building.

In this case, “Elvis” was Claudio Palma, a San Francisco doctor, dressed as the King of Rock and Roll. And “the building” was Burger Bar at Mandalay Place. After marrying his fiancée on the second mile of the Las Vegas Marathon Sunday, he took her for an after-race lunch. Just as he started to really throw himself into the role of Elvis and savor a juicy buffalo burger with bacon, Palma had to mentally don his white coat to save a woman’s life.

A fellow marathon runner — Palma doesn’t know her name — collapsed at the back of the restaurant when the doctor/runner/Elvis impersonator was mid-chew. His wife, Rhanee Palma, saw the woman lying on the floor and said, “Claudio, go!”

And he did. Wearing an Elvis jumpsuit, sideburns, scarf and running shoes. As he hurried over, Rhanee shouted, “My husband’s a doctor.”

“I said it because, you know, people think the runners dressed as Elvis might be crazy,” she says.

All day, as they ran the half-marathon, the newlyweds joked that someone would get injured and Palma, 36, would have to administer medical aid. It happens a lot, he says, especially when he’s not expecting it. There was the baby delivery in a parking lot; the stabbing in Seattle; blunt trauma and hypothermia on a bridge. And now this.

“I always wonder if something’s going to happen” on vacations, Palma says. “Half the time I come prepared with a bunch of stuff.”

After the race, they said, “hey, nothing happened. Yay, let’s get a burger.”

Something happened. Palma had to administer medical aid.

The unknown 40-ish year-old woman, a diabetic, fainted and hit her head. Palma ran to her side. An emergency room nurse who was also in the restaurant came over to help, but doctors outrank nurses, so the responsibility fell on Palma.

The woman was bleeding from the mouth and head, had no pulse and was out cold. He applied a painful level of pressure to her jaw, but she didn’t respond.

Palma is an anesthesiologist. He knows how to revive people. Born in Chile and raised in the states, he became a doctor to help others. Anytime something like this happens and blood is in the mix, there’s a millisecond where you flinch, Palma says. You’re in the field with no gloves, no masks or protective shields. You know you’re about to possibly expose yourself to hepatitis, HIV, something communicable and/or incurable. Then you do it anyway, he says.

In this case, the woman’s husband stood by. He gave Palma a quick history and Palma gave her CPR.

It worked. She came to. She freaked out. Elvis was kissing her.

“She was giving me a weird look and telling me she was okay,” Palma says.

The paramedics arrived and took the woman to the hospital. In the commotion, they didn’t exchange names, and the Palmas have no idea where she was taken.

It took Rhanee Palma four months to talk Claudio into getting married during the marathon. He thought it was a silly idea to dress as Elvis and marry during a race. Now she tells him it was meant to be. He was supposed to be there for that woman.

“I was petrified,” Rhanee Palma says. “But I was very happy for that person that Claudio was there.”

Contact reporter Sonya Padgett at or 702-380-4564.

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