The odds were not in Joan Walker’s favor on May 11 when she went into cardiac arrest and stopped breathing on the 10C bus leaving East Hampton for Montauk a little after 1:30 PM. She had just left work at Stop & Shop on Newtown Lane and had walked up to the train station, where the bus was waiting. “I don’t remember leaving work. I don’t remember anything,” she said this week.
According to the American Heart Association, of the 350,000 Americans who suffer a cardiac arrest outside of a hospital setting each year, 90 percent die. Even among those who receive emergency cardiopulmonary resuscitation, more than half still die. And the chances of women surviving the ordeal are even worse.
Yet Walker is still here. “For the grace of God. God pulled me through. He was the one who gave me strength,” she said. She was seated at a table on July 19 at John’s Pancake House in Montauk, where, for the first time, she was going to meet the two first responders who had initially applied CPR in the narrow aisle of the bus that day in May. When detective Brian Eldridge and acting detective Jennifer Dunn, both of the East Hampton Village Police Department, walked through the door, she embraced both, with tears in her eyes.
The three sat down at a table, and were soon joined by a friend of Walker’s, Novlette Martin. Martin was the one who discovered her in her state of cardiac arrest.
The day after Walker met with Eldridge and Dunn, she traveled to East Hampton and met the two other members of the village police department who played key roles in her survival, Officer Sean Christian and Sgt. Richard Mamay.
If, indeed, it was God who pulled her through, God relied on a series of unlikely events, without any one of which Walker would have died.
On May 11, the East Hampton Spring Fair was being held on Newtown Lane. The East Hampton Village police deployed extra officers in the area. Eldridge and Dunn were assigned to the fair. Normally, they would have been in plain clothes, but for the fair, they both donned uniforms. Dunn was stationed by Scoop Du Jour, closer to Main Street, while Eldridge was standing near the entrance to the Reutershan parking lot by Stop & Shop with Christian.
Walker lives in Montauk, and commutes to work every day on the 10C bus. Normally, she works until later in the afternoon, but on May 11, her shift was scheduled to end at 1 PM.
Novlette Martin, also a Montauk resident, saw that the 10C was about to leave downtown Montauk for East Hampton. On a whim, she got on board, to go shopping at Stop & Shop. When the 10C arrives in East Hampton at about 1:15 every day, there is a shift change, with a new driver taking over at the train station for the morning driver. That shift change leaves an extra window of time, so Martin knew she could get her shopping in.
Before making that trip, though, Martin had attended to her religious beliefs. “On Saturday mornings, I go on the prayer line with my church, and that Saturday morning I was on the line,” Martin said. She paused. “I don’t know if you believe in Christianity, but it is like the Holy Ghost takes over the line. I went into my room and I was crying, and I said, ‘God, use me however you want to use me.’”
Martin got to Stop & Shop a little after one, and quickly got her shopping done. Walker had already left the store to catch the bus.
After shopping, Martin was ready to return to Montauk. One of the managers at Stop & Shop offered her a ride. It would be crowded in the car, she was told, but they would make room for her. She normally would have taken that ride, but this time, she declined.
“There was a parade going on, so I walked up to Mary’s Marvelous,” said Martin. The 10C stops outside that Mary’s Marvelous after it leaves the train station. “The bus came around, so I got on and paid my fare.” There were about five other people on the bus. Martin saw her friend Joan Walker seated in her usual spot, in the back of the bus, and went to join her.
“Oh, you are so early from work,” Martin said to Walker, whose head was slumped down. “I thought she was on her phone, so I walked up to her and I sat across from her. And I said, ‘Joan, you’re early.’ Then I realized her hand is open and the phone is on the ground, so I was thinking that she had fell asleep and the phone fell from her hand. So, I took up the phone and I touched her and I said, ‘Joan, here is your phone,’ but she didn’t respond. I started screaming in the bus to the driver, ‘She is not responding.’”
The driver pulled up at the Newtown Lane stop near Stop & Shop. Martin ran off the bus to the uniformed Eldridge. He could not make out what she was saying, except for the word, “dead.” Martin recalls saying, “The woman, the bus, the bus, the woman — I couldn’t get the words out.”
“I told Sean grab the car, grab the medical kit, and meet me at the bus,” Eldridge said. He ran to the bus. He recognized immediately what was happening. He placed Walker on the floor and started performing CPR.
Christian called out on the radio that there was a medical emergency on the bus. Dunn began walking toward it, as did Mamay. Christian arrived first at the bus and radioed that CPR was being performed. Now Dunn and Mamay were running toward the bus. Christian brought in an oxygen tank and a defibrillator.
Dunn took over the CPR while Eldridge prepared the defibrillator. Dunn stepped away as Eldridge gave Walker a jolt of electricity. Suddenly, there was a bit of a pulse. Mamay came in with the ambulance crew. The EMTs took over.
It was a long four days for Walker’s family as they sat in the hospital, praying and waiting for her to revive. Her chest had been cut open from the bottom of her throat straight through her breastbone. Tubes were inserted, keeping her alive.
Walker’s brother had come up from Florida, along with her niece, to be with her. Her sister, who lives in Queens, was on hand as well. “The doctors told them they should prepare for the worst,” Walker said. The doctors told the family that, if she did recover, she could end up in a vegetative state. No one knew how long she had not been breathing, how long her heart had stopped, how long oxygen had stopped flowing to her brain. In such situations, every second can be critical. “No one expected me to live. No one expected me to pull through,” said Walker.
Four days later, she opened her eyes. “When I woke up, my niece was there,” said Walker. The doctors came in. They asked her who the president of the United States was. “I couldn’t remember his name.” However, her memory came back. All except for that four-day gap. “I lost four days of my life. I can’t remember anything,” she said.
Walker has completed the last day of her initial rehabilitation program. She is on a special diet, and cannot do any lifting for six months. She knows she needs to continue therapy, but is uncertain how that will happen. She knows she needs to avoid stress, and to avoid artery-clogging foods.
Sitting at John’s Pancake House, she said, “I am so grateful. Every morning, every night I praise the Lord. ‘Thank you for bringing me back.’”
Eldridge said to Walker, “It is pretty amazing we are sitting here, talking, that I am sitting here, having breakfast with you.”
Walker looked across the table at Eldridge. “Thank you, Mr. Eldridge.” Then, she looked at Dunn. “Thank you.”