Special to The Times-Register
When Mary-Beth Beckner arrived at Salem’s Station One to formally meet the individuals who saved her life in early October, she immediately broke the socially awkward nature of the moment by saying, “You are the ones who saw me naked, and I appreciate you more than you will ever know.”
Near death experiences have a funny way of putting things in perspective, as Beckner unexpectedly found out on Oct. 6 just a few minutes after leaving her job at Graham-White Manufacturing on Colorado Street.
“I still cannot imagine that I was lying dead on the side of the road,” she said. “Every time I get another little detail about that day, I get emotional.”
Just after 4 p.m. that afternoon, Beckner turned off Apperson Drive onto Route 419 heading out of Salem toward the Cave Spring area. She had barely passed the Verizon store on the corner when her car veered into the curb near Rotary Park.
“I saw her hit the brakes and go up on the curb as we turned the corner and I first thought she was having car trouble,” said Casey Steagall, who was driving her personal vehicle just behind Beckner. “As I pulled beside her, I could see she was slumped over, and my immediate instinct was to help her.”
Thousands of cars travel the Electric Road corridor each day and on that sunny afternoon hundreds of motorists drove by the accident and never once thought about stopping to help. Some blew their horns, several flashed their lights, a few took out their phones to take a drive-by video, but only two jumped in the fray without hesitation.
“The police officers told me that if my car had not been there for her vehicle to roll into, she could have gone over the embankment and into the river,” said Steagall. “After her car stopped, I got out of mine and ran to her, and I could see she was unconscious.”
After calling 911, Steagall, who is a veteran nurse at Vistar’s West Main Street office in Salem, immediately put her 14 years of experiences and training to work and pulled Beckner from the car. As she was just getting set to begin CPR, another motorist, Evan Friedman, pulled over and ran to the scene.
“I used to work for Roanoke County as a paramedic and I just saw that something wasn’t right,” he said. “I had to make sure this individual didn’t need more help.”
Freidman, who owns a construction business in the Glenvar area was heading home from work just like Steagall and Beckner. The fact that two medical professionals trained in emergency care would come to Beckner’s aid on a congested throughfare is beyond coincidence for the victim.
“God and I are pretty tight, and he knows I haven’t finished my work here yet,” said Beckner. “He has more things for me to do and thanks to Casey and Evan I am still here. They are my guardian angels, and I will never be able to repay them.”
“Daily, I think about how everything happened exactly like it was supposed to,” said Steagall. “It is incredible.”
Salem Fire and EMS crews arrived at the scene in just four minutes and found advanced CPR in progress. The medics took over the care and after two shocks from the automated external defibrillator (AED) the patient regained her pulse. By the time Beckner reached LewisGale Medical Center she was breathing again.
“It’s not often that this outcome happens,” said Friedman. “It is pretty special.”
Beckner had a cardiac catheterization done at LewisGale and two blockages in her heart were eventually cleared. She spent a total of three days in the hospital before resuming her life.
“I just hoped to hear good news that night, because not all stories end like this one,” said Steagall. “I think I will always have a part of her with me and I am just so grateful to see her alive and well and happy. It is just amazing.”
Had it not been for Steagall and Friedman the ending to the story could have been much different. After a few minutes without oxygenated blood going to the brain, brain cells start to die-off and never return. After about six minutes, the brain has suffered so much damage that it often only functions at a diminished level, if at all.
“I am so proud of these two individuals and our medic staff members who responded to the call that day and did exactly what they are trained to do,” said John Prillaman, Salem Fire and EMS chief. “This is one of those positive outcomes that all of us will remember for a long, long time.”
The quality CPR that Stegall and Friedman provided kept Beckner’s brain well oxygenated and gave her a chance to survive and visit Fire Station One on Oct. 27 with her family. That night she was able to properly express her gratitude, shed some tears and see her guardian angels receive special recognition from the Salem Fire and EMS Department for their heroic actions.
“This is all still very surreal to me but the one thing I do know is that I want to be an advocate for CPR training,” said Beckner. “I want people to know that we need funding for training, for nurses and first responders and we need to make sure there are more defibrillators. I want to create awareness for the importance of saving lives like mine.”