Bright days on the beach in Ocean City. His children’s weddings. His grandkids’ laughter. Vacations to Mexico, Florida, and California — and those annual Navy vs. Notre Dame football games.

Yesterday. Today. Tomorrow.

There’s an endless list of things that Bob Kates would have missed if not for Jim Morton’s life-saving intervention, from unforgettable experiences with family to the simple joy of waking up, over and again, to another morning.

Kates, a 66-year-old Naval Academy graduate and retired pharmaceutical executive, also counts among his blessings the deep and enduring friendship with the man who rushed to his rescue that day in the gym in Cherry Hill.

“This is the man who enabled me to continue with my life,” Kates said of Morton. “I definitely wouldn’t be here today without him.”

Kates and Morton didn’t know each other before that Friday afternoon in May of 2016. They lived in the same Barclay Farms neighborhood of Cherry Hill, just a few blocks apart, but had never met.

Morton, a culinary arts teacher and boys’ basketball coach at Camden County Technical Schools’ campus in Pennsauken, was on an elliptical machine at the former Retro Fitness. Kates was on a treadmill.

Bob Kates (left) and Jim Morton have become close friends since Morton used CPR and a portable AED machine to save Kates' life after Kates collapsed in a fitness center where both men were working out.
jim morton
Bob Kates (left) and Jim Morton have become close friends since Morton used CPR and a portable AED machine to save Kates' life after Kates collapsed in a fitness center where both men were working out.

Morton noticed a commotion a few machines down the row. Kates had collapsed and was facedown on the treadmill, which was continuing to run.

“It scraped my face pretty good,” Kates said. “I looked like I went 15 rounds with Muhammad Ali.”

As a high school coach, Morton had been trained in CPR. He has become a passionate advocate for the importance of training based on his experience with Kates.

“He wasn’t breathing. I couldn’t find a pulse,” Morton said. “I started hands-on CPR. Luckily, the gym had a portable AED (automated external defibrillator). I had never done it before. If someone had asked me that morning if I felt like I could administer CPR and save someone’s life, I would have told them, ‘I really don’t know.’ But your training kicks in. You do what you’re trained to do.”

Morton used the AED to administer a jolt that restarted Kates’ heart. A few minutes later, Cherry Hill EMTs rushed in and took control of the situation.

“I got a call later from the police, and they told me if I hadn’t done the CPR, they don’t think Bob would have made it,” Morton said. “I always tell people, ‘If someone you love went into cardiac arrest, you would want someone there to help. Please get CPR-certified.’”

Kates has almost no recollection of the event, other than a “split-second awareness” that he was falling. He regained consciousness when EMTs were loading his stretcher into an ambulance.

At Cooper Hospital, Kates called his wife, Rosemary. She didn’t recognize his voice.

“She thought some crazy person was calling from the ER,” Kates said.

Jim Morton (left) has become a passionate advocate for the importance of CPR training after using his training to save the life of Bob Kates (right).
jim morton
Jim Morton (left) has become a passionate advocate for the importance of CPR training after using his training to save the life of Bob Kates (right).

Kates said tests revealed no blockages or heart damage. The incident was the result of an electrical malfunction, so doctors installed a pacemaker to strengthen and regulate his heartbeat.

“It came with a 10-year warranty, so I guess in six years I’ll need another one,” said Kates, who also is a retired commander from the U.S. Naval Reserves.

Soon after he was released from the hospital, Kates and his wife returned to the gym to ask about the man who saved his life.

“It was just really important for Bob to meet this man, to thank him,” Rosemary Kates said. “Jim is his hero.”

The Kateses discovered that Jim and Diane Morton lived around the corner from them. The two couples arranged for a meeting over coffee at the Kateses’ home.

“To finally see the man who enabled me to continue with my life, it was awesome,” Kates said. “It’s crazy for me to think about all the things that I would not have experienced if not for him.”

Morton said the meeting was emotional for everyone.

“A lot of tears flowed,” he said. “Bob told me that day his chest was still hurting. I put my hand up and said, ‘Is the bruise about this size?’”

The couples have remained friendly, regularly getting together for dinners and drinks. Jim and Bob belong to the same gym, Planet Fitness in Westmont, and sometimes work out together. Rosemary Kates said the friends been texting each other on a daily basis during the pandemic.

Morton, who works part-time as a Realtor, helped Kates and his sister sell their mother’s home in Audubon after her death.

Kates has been a regular spectator at Pennsauken Tech games as his friend coaches the Tornadoes.

“He’s a great friend, just a humble guy,” Kates said of Morton.

Bob Kates (third from the right) and his family on the beach in Ocean City in the summer of 2019.
bob kates
Bob Kates (third from the right) and his family on the beach in Ocean City in the summer of 2019.

Kates and his wife have three children and three grandchildren. They plan to soon sell their home in Cherry Hill — with Morton as their Realtor, naturally — and move full-time to Ocean City, to be close to the beach, hear the ocean, enjoy their retirement.

Morton tells everyone who will listen about the importance of CPR training. He knows it can save lives. He knows it can change them, too.

“Just knowing he can hold his grandkids, it’s something I think about,” Morton said of Kates. “That’s something you don’t take for granted. It was life-changing for him. But it was life-changing for me, too.”