Do you believe in angels? Teresa Dellinger, of Timberville, definitely does. Not only that, but Dellinger is pretty sure they attend night school.
On Sept. 8, Dellinger was sitting in her usual spot as a student in the Certified Nursing Assistant class at Massanutten Technical Center in Harrisonburg. It was 9:22 p.m. and the four-hour class was crawling toward its 9:30 finish line.
Fellow student Leah Brumback, also of Timberville, was practicing the process of measuring blood pressure, but struggling to get a good reading on her friend. As Brumback removed the cuff to reposition and try again, Dellinger's eyes closed and her body fell limp.
The next 10 minutes were a master class in how to do everything right in an emergency, and all the evidence you need that training, love, and maybe even angels play a recurring role in nursing.
As Dellinger was carefully lowered to the floor, class instructor Christie Pearson raced to begin CPR. "I was first certified in 1992 and I've always bragged that I never had to use it," Pearson said. The high school teacher by day and night school teacher by - well, night - has been trained, taught, and recertified many times over her distinguished career. "But I've never had to do CPR. I've even bragged about not ever needing to use what I'd trained for."
While her good luck streak may have died that night, Teresa Dellinger did not.
With no breath, no pulse, and turning a shade of blue you never forget, Pearson began chest compressions while Brumback, the 21-year-young wide-eyed student, performed mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. Dellinger was gone on that shiny classroom floor more than once, but thanks to her heroes and the other students cheering them on, she kept fighting for a few more breaths and many more years.
EMTs soon arrived and took over, with Pearson and her students watching the real-life training play out in real-time. It took 30 minutes before Dellinger was stable enough to move and transport to a nearby hospital.
As Dellinger, Brumback, and the others said goodbye and walked to their cars, the private prayers gushed up to heaven like a rainstorm in reverse. "I kept thinking what if her heart had stopped just eight minutes later?" Pearson mused. "We would have been getting in our cars alone. Or worse, she could have been driving already."
Brumback said she also prayed the entire way home. "I wanted to be confident, but honestly I wasn't. More than 90% of people who get CPR outside a hospital don't make it. And I thought about how she was in and out the whole time and how her body kept fighting. I just prayed she had a lot of life left to live."
Five hours after being given another chance, Dellinger woke up staring at her family in the emergency room. She remembered nothing about the experience since her last glance at the classroom clock at 8:30 p.m.
For six days, Delliger's doctors poked, prodded, tested, and tried to answer the unanswerable – why?
"They just kept telling me it's a mystery they don't understand and haven't seen before," Dellinger said. "I've had no heart problems, no history, nothing. They just can't explain why it happened."
All three women, interviewed separately and with no knowledge of what the others said, praised the first responders as the real heroes. They also shared beautifully similar observations.
"I know it played out the way it was supposed to," Pearson said. "Yes, I am trained, but I don't like to take credit. Everybody worked together and Teresa was saved for a reason, a bigger purpose. It was completely in God's hands."
"My message to anyone reading this would be to keep God in your life," Brumback said. "Please pray every day, keep up with your health, spend time with your family, and live life to the fullest. You never know when it might end."
"Don't take anything for granted," Dellinger said through tears. "Live each day like it's your last. I'm living proof. And remember that life is short, it's so precious! I'm thankful for my relationship with the Lord and I give God the glory."
All three friends are eager to see what's next. Pearson is anxious to continue teaching others to be prepared, and even though observers say she performed flawlessly, she still seeks areas of improvement for next time.
Brumback has faith she'll complete her CNA and give her career a boost. "This is what I know I'm supposed to be doing. This is where my heart is."
Dellinger, already with a successful career working as a government contractor, will rehab at home for several weeks before making decisions about her future. "I've always liked serving other people and I enrolled in MTC's program because I think it's never too late for something new. I want to always keep improving myself and find new ways to be there for other people the way my angels were there for me."
Pearson, the reluctant hero, put it all into perspective. "Think of it. Of all the places this could have happened. At our wonderful MTC during a nursing class. Taking blood pressure. With a teacher and students ready. This is nothing short of a miracle."
And why wouldn't it be? That's what nurses and angels do – make miracles – even at night school.