OSHTEMO TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) - Two Metro Transit bus drivers are being credited with helping save a passenger who nearly died on a bus.
Joyce Gregory boarded the Route 3 bus Dec. 14 with a walker in tow at the Maple Hill Mall stop in Oshtemo Township. Driver Debby Kerr said Gregory appeared winded when the 60-year-old boarded her bus. They chatted about Gregory's expired transfer ticket before the passenger moved to a seat and Kerr stepped off the coach momentarily.
"That's when I heard her begin yelling, 'I need help. My heart. My heart.'" Kerr said, according to a news release from the Kalamazoo City Manager's Office.
"I got ahold of my dispatcher to contact emergency responders and I went back to check on her," Kerr continued. "Her eyes were already rolling back and her head was dropping. I knew this lady was in trouble right then and there."
Kerr said a mentally challenged man who is a regular rider helped her keep Gregory from falling into the aisle. But Kerr soon realized she was going to need help until medical responders arrived. She knew Coach Operator Donna Wright was due to pull up her Route 14 bus momentarily and Kerr dispatched an oncoming passenger to summon Wright.
Kerr and Wright gently lifted Gregory to the floor of the bus and decided to begin CPR, according to a news release.
"I hadn't had CPR in 25 years and I’d never had to perform it on a real person," said Kerr, an 11-year driver from Comstock Township. "I'm not a paramedic or a first-responder. I'm a bus driver.
"I remember thinking, 'Jesus, if you're ever going to answer a prayer, I need your help right now.'"
Wright, a Kalamazoo woman who has been driving buses for nearly four years, has an associate degree in allied health and was CPR-certified four years ago. This was the first time she had put the training into practice, and thought the signs were not promising.
Kerr said short minutes seemed like hours as the two bus drivers continued to work on the unresponsive Gregory, awaiting Oshtemo Township responders, ambulance personnel and an on-scene doctor.
Emergency personnel arrived, took over the reviving efforts on Gregory and transported her to Bronson Methodist Hospital. Kerr and Wright thought their inability to detect a pulse meant Gregory had died before reaching Bronson Methodist Hospital.
"I just kept thinking, 'My God, I'm the last one she looked at and spoke to,'" Kerr recalled. "I'm an emotional person and we were under the impression she didn't make it. I went through the whole weekend praying."
"It was really disheartening to think that she had passed away that close to the holidays," Wright added.
News of the medical emergency spread through Metro Transit, and the following Monday operations manager Yvonne Thrash asked Transit director Bill Schomisch to use his contacts to get the woman's name and find out where the agency could direct its condolences.
"When Bill found out the woman was in the hospital and scheduled for surgery, we were so, well, it was incredible," Thrash said.
Kerr and Wright shared the credit in helping save Gregory, trumpeting the compassion they also received from Oshtemo first-responders who took the time to make sure the two drivers had not been traumatized by the experience.
But both women ultimately credit a higher authority.
"The good Lord was looking after all of us; He had His hand right there," said Wright.
Kerr said Gregory's survival was a glimmer of goodness the same day of the mass shooting at a school in Newtown, Conn.
"Something good came the end of that day. We weren't alone in that bus. I feel very blessed."
Gregory is recovering from triple-bypass surgery, according to her sister, Michelle Gipson, of Bangor. They are among 14 siblings and Gipson says her sister “loves poetry, singing and keeping people laughing.”
The family wants to treat Kerr and Wright to dinner and some hot-tub time. Gipson calls the pair "my angels."
Gipson, Wright and Kerr also have something else in common as a result of the life-saving experience -- all three plan to take a CPR training class.