Becoming Empowered: CPR and the Power of One

Blog authored by David Martinez, Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) signal maintainer, New York

CPR Blog David Martinez
David Martinez receives the New York Daily News “Hometown Hero in Transit Award” at April 6, 2017 ceremony in New York.

One man, reading one article and watching one video on CPR, one time… this sums up what prepared me to help save a life.

I’ve been a signal maintainer with the MTA for 17 years. During my tenure, I’ve never had to come to the aid of coworkers as a result of an accident or emergency. Last October, I was put to the test.

It was a typical day, nothing unusual. My fellow co-workers and I were in the middle of performing routine signal maintenance inside the 145th Street subway station when a normal day turned into an emergency in seconds. As we were leaving the site and removing warning flags, I suddenly heard a shout to call the control center to turn off power.

Two co-workers, one being Monique Brathwaite, were retrieving flags when a train arrived into the station, prompting them to clear the area. Upon arriving at their location, I discovered that Monique had fallen on to the third rail of the track and was struck by a tremendous surge of electricity. My heart was racing and I was sweating profusely, fearing what was before me.

Monique was face down, her head underneath the third rail, smoke rising from her body.  A sight that left me panic-stricken and pacing in front of her. Scared, and probably in a bit of shock, I didn’t know what to do. Thinking she was probably dead, I inched closer to her, all the while thinking about her small children. And then to my disbelief, I saw the slightest movement! I screamed to my co-workers, “She’s alive!”

After confirming the power was turned off, we moved her to a safe area, and then what happened next is credited to my daily habit during my subway commute to work.  Without fail, I read The Washington Post every day on my Kindle. Last July, I stumbled across an article on Hands-Only CPR, a type of CPR that relies only on chest compressions, as well as an accompanying 90-second video, which was produced by the American Heart Association with support from the Anthem Foundation. The video demonstrated how to perform the skill using the Bee Gees’ song, “Stayin’ Alive” as a rhythmic guide. I read the article and watched the video. One time. My memory went into overdrive as I looked down at Monique’s face and lifeless body.

Fear and panic were no longer consuming my mind, but instead everything that I read and watched on Hands-Only CPR just a few months prior. With the beat and lyrics of “Stayin’ Alive” ringing in my ears, I performed compressions for about a minute, and she opened her mouth and eyes. With encouragement from my coworkers, I continued the compressions for another 15 minutes until emergency help arrived.

I recently read an American Heart Association article that shared eye-opening statistics regarding Hands-Only CPR perceptions in minority communities. Many in these communities are afraid to perform CPR for fear of causing injury or believe it requires special training. These two reasons may support another statistic I learned; 30 to 50 percent of African-Americans and Hispanics do not have CPR performed on them in an emergency.

Luckily, Monique and I aren’t counted in these statistics. I saved her life. What a great feeling! She’s still recovering from her injuries, and has a long road ahead, but will be present for those important milestones her children will one day experience.

I encourage everyone to learn CPR. The Hands-Only CPR video that I watched is a great start. The American Heart Association has a number of training resources available and even has a program called “EmPOWERED to Serve” where you can get involved in minority communities to improve health outcomes.

I was empowered by simply reading one article and watching one video, one time. And I’m honored and proud that the New York Daily News recognized me earlier this month with its “Hometown Hero in Transit Award” for my actions. The true honor… knowing that my actions made the difference in my friend living to see another day.