Bill Gerow had never performed CPR on a human being before, “only dummies.”
The 50-year-old Farmingdale man had taken a lifesaving course when he was 13 to earn a Boy Scouts merit badge, but never had to put those skills to use — until last Thursday.
Gerow and his 15-year-old son, Max, were coming home from work on the 5:53 p.m. Long Island Rail Road train from Penn Station to Ronkonkoma when another passenger toppled onto them as they pulled away from the Bethpage station.
“His head landed in my left hand,” Gerow said. “His eyes were rolled back and he wasn’t breathing.”
The man in distress was Chris Marshall, 60, of Ronkonkoma, a father of two. He was in cardiac arrest, unconscious, with no pulse.
In that moment, Gerow said he instinctively conjured up his dormant, 37-year-old CPR skills. He laid Marshall in the aisle of the train car and started administering chest compressions and mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. Two minutes later, Gerow said Marshall was breathing again, but still unconscious.
When the train pulled into Farmingdale minutes later, an EMT came aboard and took over. Gerow exited the train with his son, gave his information to a police officer, and then went on his way.
“I didn’t know what happened after I got off the train,” he said. “I didn’t know if he lived.”
But Gerow got confirmation that the mystery man he saved did pull through when a friend stumbled upon a Facebook post early Sunday morning. It was written by Marshall’s wife, Margaret. The police report she obtained about the incident had merely identified her husband’s rescuer as “the witness,” so she was using social media to try to find him.
Marshall’s doctors at St. Joseph Hospital in Bethpage told her that whoever had administered CPR to her husband had done so “immediately and consistently.” Because of this, she said he was expected to make a full recovery.
But most people who experience cardiac arrest outside of a medical facility die because they don’t receive immediate CPR from someone at the scene, according to the American Heart Association.
Margaret Marshall said she wanted to find her husband’s rescuer so that he would know the impact he had.
“I wanted him to know that my husband survived ... that what he did mattered,” she said.
After a brief exchange of emails and phone calls, Gerow met the Marshalls Sunday morning at St. Joseph.
Gerow said when he walked into Marshall’s hospital room, the man he last saw lying unconscious on a train was now sitting up and cracking jokes.
“I thought, ‘This is totally awesome; the guy’s OK,’” Gerow said.
Marshall was transferred to Good Samaritan Hospital Medical Center in West Islip Monday, and he could be released as early as Tuesday.
Margaret Marshall said she and Gerow exchanged hugs and tears. She told him: “I hope you have everything you want in life, because you just gave me everything I want in my life.”
And Chris Marshall let his guardian angel know he’s keeping him close by.
He told Gerow, “I’ll be sitting next to you on the train from now on.”