The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

This man had no CPR training. But he saved his co-worker’s life by pumping her chest to ‘Stayin’ Alive.’

He thought she was dead.

David Martinez had heard his co-worker fall as his group of subway workers walked off the underground tracks in New York City on Friday afternoon.

He saw Monique Brathwaite lying across the third rail that powers the No. 1 train under West 145th Street in Harlem with 600 volts of electricity.

“I was suspecting the worst,” said Martinez, 54, who lives in Queens. “There was smoke coming out of her hair. I said, ‘She’s dead.’ ’’

Martinez, who has worked for the subway system for 16 years, said he thought of her children. He moved closer to her. “I saw her move.”

A co-worker called dispatch to shut off the power and Martinez, never trained in CPR, recalled reading an article in July in The Washington Post about the District fire chief’s efforts to train everyday citizens in a new version of saving people from heart attacks.

A lesson learned in minutes may save lives: ‘Hands-Only CPR’

It’s called “Hands-Only CPR,” which eliminates mouth-to-mouth resuscitation and emphasizes chest compressions to quickly pump blood to an oxygen-deprived brain.

Hands-only CPR is the new method of the life-saving technique without using mouth-to-mouth breaths. (Video: American Heart Association (AHA))

It can be quickly taught and easy to remember. The fire chief’s goal is to train everyone in the District. He reached 10,000 on Oct. 6.

Martinez said he learned by reading the article on his Kindle and by watching a video produced by the American Heart Association that accompanied the story on the Internet. People are told to pump chests to the beat of the song “Stayin’ Alive,” because its 100-to-120 beats per minute is an ideal pace.

Martinez remembered the important part, if not the lyrics. “I kept singing ‘Keep Alive, Keep Alive,’ ” he said. It took several minutes for New York firefighters to reach Brathwaite, a 35-year-old single mother of three who took the job as “signal maintainer” seven months ago. It’s regarded as among the most dangerous positions in the transit administration; the union said the job because it provided extra money for her family.

By the time firefighters got there, Martinez said, Brathwaite was breathing. “She had a convulsion and she opened her eyes,” he said.

Brathwaite was rushed to Harlem Hospital Center where leaders of her labor group, Transport Workers Union Local 100, said she was placed in a medically induced coma. She was taken out of the coma Monday and was alert and talking, said the union’s spokesman, Pete Donohue.

John Samuelsen, president of Transport Workers Union Local 100, said that subway workers in New York, unlike in most other cities, perform routine maintenance in underground tunnels while trains are running and the electrified third rails are activated. Typically, one worker dies each year in the system, he said.

“Ms. Brathwaite was very lucky,” he said. “It’s very rare that an individual has an accident, comes in contact with the third rail, and lives to tell the tale.”

A GoFundMe page — set up to help support her children and pay bills  — said she has nerve damage in her right hand and suffered third-degree burns on the left side of her body and both arms. She could be hospitalized for months. She has four sons — ages 7, 12, 16 and 19 — and is putting the oldest through college.

Her 19-year-old son, Jeremiah McCoy, said he has not yet talked to Martinez but learned from his mother about her co-worker’s heroics. “She didn’t remember anything,” McCoy said. “She doesn’t know how she fell. She was told a man saved her live and gave her CPR.”

McCoy said his mother left her old job at the post office to work in the subway system to better provide for her family. “I didn’t realize her job was this high risk,” McCoy said. “I don’t think my mom wanted us to be too concerned.”

Martinez, who suffered a back injury during the rescue, has children of his own as well. A 4-year-old daughter and a 3-year-old son live with relatives in the Dominican Republic; two other sons, ages 21 and 23, live in New York.

He and Brathwaite — the savior and the saved — saw each other again for the first time at the hospital on Monday.

“She was really grateful,” Martinez said. “She told me, ‘Because of you, I’m alive.’ I really feel good. It’s a miracle she’s alive.”

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