BENNINGTON -- Second year nursing student Eva Friend was originally supposed to do her clinical observation in Massachusetts on Nov. 26. At the last minute, the 26-year-old Vermont Technical College student was told her clinical site had been changed to Washington Elms, an assisted living facility in Bennington.
Maybe it was luck. Maybe fate. Whatever it was, Jerry BeShane is still alive because of it.
Friend, a licensed practical nurse enrolled in the VTC nursing program in Bennington, had just arrived at the Elm Street facility when Michelle Angel, the registered nurse at Washington Elms, yelled for her to quickly come to the back porch where BeShane was found slumped over in a chair unresponsive.
"I put his head back and noticed he didn't have a pulse," Friend recalled Wednesday.
At that point, instincts and training took over. "We got him out of the chair onto the ground where I did compressions on him for a good 20 minutes."
Friend, who lives in Bristol, said Wednesday she could not recall any specific emotions rushing through her at the time other than a devotion to keep BeShane alive.
"My main goal was just getting him back. I didn't really have any feelings, I just didn't want that man to die," she said.
BeShane was resuscitated at least once over the 20 minutes Angel and Friend performed CPR. After a short time with a pulse, he crashed again.
"Jerry came back for a split second when rescue pulled up.
Friend is certified in CPR although had not previously performed it on a person. "I've had practice with the dummies for all my CPR training, but I've never had to initiate it at all," she said.
Within minutes Bennington Rescue Squad arrived on scene. Friend continued doing compressions as the Rescue Squad took other measures to save BeShane.
BeShane's son arrived as he was being loaded into the ambulance. The image of his son by BeShane's side and words later spoken by Friend's teacher have stuck with Friend.
"My teacher said, ‘You kept him alive long enough for his son to see him at least one more time.'" Friend recalled, pausing. "That's an opportunity I didn't have with my dad."
The Rescue Squad transported BeShane to Southwestern Vermont Medical Center and he was then airlifted to Albany Medical Center due to the severity of his condition. Receiving medical treatment in Albany, BeShane's condition continued to improve until he was able to return to Washington Elms, where he had only recently been taken in after previously living on the streets.
BeShane said Thursday he does not remember a lot of what happened, or what caused it, but is grateful for the help of Friend, Angel, the Rescue Squad and others.
"All I remember is walking down to the Family Dollar and I got back here ... my legs were tired. I stood there at the bottom of the stairs for a minute and started walking up on the porch. I got up there to the chair and sat down for a minute," BeShane said. "That is the last thing I remember until I came to at Albany."
A week and a half later BeShane had the opportunity to meet and thank Friend in person when he visited her class. He also gave her a winter cactus as a small token of his appreciation.
"I started crying when he walked into class. Then other people started crying," Friend said.
BeShane, who is still recovering at Washington Elms, said meeting the woman who helped save his life was important to him.
"I told her, I said they need more people like you around here and I told her thanks a lot," BeShane said.
Wanting to do even more, Friend gave BeShane a new winter jacket during the visit.
"They cut his jacket off ... knowing the man was homeless before he lived there, I knew it was all the warm clothes he had," Friend said.
Wednesday, the last day of the fall semester in which Friend and classmates took their finals, Friend was formally recognized at a ceremony by members of the Rescue Squad and another surprise visitor -- BeShane.
At the ceremony the Rescue Squad presented Friend with a life saver award and BeShane gave her a candy flower made of Life Saver candies as well as a real flower bouquet.
BeShane is still feeling some ill effects, but the fact that he's feeling at all may be a miracle.
When asked if BeShane would still be alive if not for Friend's response, Rescue Squad Executive Director Erin Ingebretsen was quick to answer. "No. One hundred percent, no."
The experience, Friend said, has reaffirmed what she already knew she wanted to do for the rest of her life -- help save lives.
"I went into nursing because I wanted to help people. That's my main goal," Friend said. "When something like this happens it's like, this is what I'm meant to do."
Contact Dawson Raspuzzi at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow on Twitter @DawsonRaspuzzi