Hero among us

QU grad student honored by Hamden Fire Department

Chatwan Mongkol, Staff Writer

A Quinnipiac graduate student was honored on Monday, Feb.10, by the Town of Hamden and its fire department after she performed life-saving CPR.

Courtney Vander May is a second-year doctoral student in the physical therapy program. Besides being a full-time student, she works as a waitress at Side Street Bar & Grille located on Dickerman Street in Hamden.

Vander May has been CPR-certified for almost two years, but she never expected to use the skill for the first time at the bar she works at.

Courtney Vander May
Courtney Vander May was presented with a certificate at a ceremony on Feb 10.

The incident happened on Sunday, Jan. 19, according to Lt. Rob Madigosky, one of the first responders.

While Vander May was having a conversation with one of her regular consumers, he started to slur his words, fell down and stopped breathing. At first, she thought that he was acting out to try to tell her a story.

“He was telling me a story, and so I thought he was just acting funny, like for the story purposes,” Vander May said. “(He was) saying something about the sidewalks not being shoveled cause it had just snowed. I thought he was acting out, falling or slipping or something in the snow.”

After he fell down and started turning purple, Vander May realized that wasn’t a joke. She then started performing the skill she was trained in.

Vander May looked back to the incident and said that she was terrified, though she felt at the moment that she had to help him.

“I was talking to him like ‘come on and keep going.’ Like ‘keep breathing, you’re doing so great,’” Vander May said.

Madigosky, Firefighter Larry Bowden and Firefighter Jaime Bonet, the first responders from Hamden Fire Station 5, which responds to the calls from Whitney Avenue and the northside of the town, came two and a half minutes after the man fell down from just across the street. They took over the scene.

Madigosky said that without Vander May’s help, the man wouldn’t have survived.

“Once he went down, it took us two minutes to get there,” Madigosky said. “And immediate CPR is always, always a benefit to the outcome of the patient.”

The man was helped right away. They kept performing CPR, gave him medications and shocked him with an AED.

Vander May appreciated the credit that was given to her, though she felt like it wasn’t only her that had helped.

“Yes, I helped. I definitely helped,” Vander May said. “But I think (the first responders) did way more than they’re giving themselves credit for.”

Three weeks after the incident, the fire department held a ceremony on Monday, Feb. 10, to swear in new firefighters, as well as to honor Vander May after she saved the man’s life.

Madigosky said that the fire department decided to honor her because it wasn’t something that happens a lot in the community.

“It was just something great that we need to get out there and let people know more about it,” Madigosky said.

Vander May didn’t expect to be recognized at the ceremony. She knew that the fire department was swearing in new firefighters but had no idea her story was going to be told as an example of what the fire department should want and what firefighters should be.

“I was really honored to have that,” Vander May said. “It was kind of surreal for a little bit. The news came and so many people, like it was videotaped.”

Megan Crane, Vander May’s friend and a second-year doctoral student in the physical therapy program, said that she was excited that the town brought attention to what her friend had done.

“I’m so proud of how brave (Vander May) was and I think it’s so important for everyone to hear her story,” Crane said. “If god forbids something like this ever happened to someone I loved, I can only hope that there is a Courtney somewhere nearby.”

As another CPR-certified person, Crane was glad that Vander May was able to prove that being CPR-certified isn’t something only health care providers should do. That’s what Vander May hoped to the public to take from her story.

“I definitely appreciate the recognition, but I just want it to reach people to inspire someone to get certified,” Vander May said.

Vander May explained that it would take only $86 to get certified. She said it would be silly if people choose not to spend that.

“There was never a moment where that I would expect to have to use it in a hospital with medically unstable patients,” Vander May said. “I ended up having to use it in the bar I work (at).”

It was the first time Vander May did CPR, and hoped it was the last time she had to do such a thing.