Lt. John Halpern
Photo credit: Florida Highway Patrol
At her favorite deli, 89-year-old Beth Chalmers had just ordered her usual — pastrami on seeded rye, cole slaw and a pickle — when suddenly, she said, she could no longer speak.
Seconds later Chalmers was on the floor of the Pastrami Club and two uniformed Florida Highway Patrol troopers lunching nearby were at her side.
One of those troopers, Lt. John Halpern, also happened to be an emergency room doctor.
"She was literally not breathing, without a pulse, and unconscious," said Halpern, medical director of the emergency department at Loxahatchee's Palms West Hospital who volunteers with the Highway Patrol auxiliary.
Halpern, 56, said he began CPR immediately on Chalmers during the Saturday incident. Within 45 seconds, she had regained consciousness from a yet-to-be-determined medical episode.
"Everything happened so quickly," Chalmers, of Tamarac, said Tuesday from her bed at Florida Medical Center in Fort Lauderdale. "It was unbelievable."
The incident at the restaurant, 5240 N. University Dr., began about 1 p.m. Saturday just after Chalmers and her niece, Sara Coccia, placed their orders.
"I was talking to my niece, and she said to me, 'Why are you staring and not talking?'" said Chalmers. "That's all I remember."
Halpern said he and his partner, Trooper Christopher Zarazinski, were at the deli on their lunch break when a server rushed over to say a customer needed help.
Before Lauderhill Fire Rescue arrived, Halpern said Chalmers was conscious and speaking clearly. "She was able to give her medical history, and she told me she wanted to go home," said Halpern. "She was totally mentally intact."
Halpern said he began volunteering as an FHP auxiliary trooper more than three years ago, and until Saturday had not faced an emergency while on duty.
"There is a myriad of things that could have happened in this case," he said. "Her heart could have slowed down, or an abnormal heart rhythm, or a transit stroke. The bottom line is that her circulation needed to be restored."
From the hospital, Chalmers said she is "doing very well." She expressed her gratitude to Halpern.
And she hopes to be back at the Pastrami Club soon. "That's the only place I love to eat," she said. "I go there once every couple of weeks. The food is great. I want to go back."
Copyright 2014 the Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.)
McClatchy-Tribune News Service