Pequannock, NJ – Recently, the Pequannock first aid squad held an event honoring a team of first aid members who saved a Wayne woman’s life on January 18.

It was an ordinary Saturday at the Stop N Shop on Route 23 in Pompton Plains when Joanne McCloskey collapsed, her heart stopping from Sudden Cardiac Arrest. Shoppers came to her assistance but did not know what to do. An announcement came over the store intercom asking anyone with medical experience to come to aisle sixteen.

Wayne resident, EMT and Wayne Memorial First Aid Squad volunteer, Michelle Kight was shopping with her husband when she heard the call and came running.

Sign Up for Wayne Newsletter
Our newsletter delivers the local news that you can trust.

“As I approached, I saw the woman on the ground and at first glance I thought it was going to be a seizure,” said Kight.  “But when I crouched down, I recognized a pattern of breathing that we see with cardiac arrest called agonal breathing.”

Kight explained: “This is basically the brain’s last effort as the heart is stopping to get oxygen into the body.  It’s a very distinct, very exaggerated gasping that a lot of lay people might mistake for breathing.”  The EMT added: “It’s not the kind of breathing that would sustain life.  So, I knew by this that we were dealing with a cardiac arrest situation.”

Cardiac arrest is also called Sudden Cardiac Death.  This is an electrical condition where the heart suddenly stops beating.

“I checked her pulse, knowing that there wouldn’t be one,” said Kight, who told us later that she had performed CPR before but never off duty, and never without any equipment.  Her training took over and saved McCloskey’s life.

Kight provided chest compressions that kept blood flowing to McCloskey’s brain and when the Pequannock Police arrived, they shocked her with a defibrillator four times before handing McCloskey off to the Pequannock First Aid Squad and Atlantic Health paramedics who rushed her to a nearby hospital.

“In the moment, I had so much adrenaline running through me that I probably could’ve done anything,” said the Wayne First Aid Volunteer.  “It’s after the fact, that you realize how stressed you were. I needed to take a four-hour nap later that day and I ate half a lemon pound cake!” she said laughing.

Kight didn’t learn the victim’s name and was “obsessed” with knowing what happened to her.  It wasn’t until two days later that she heard that she was alive. “And about a week after that, I found out that she was going to make it and without any deficits,” said Kight with a smile.

McCloskey, mother of three adult children, woke up in the hospital a week and a half later, having no recollection of that Saturday at all.  “I was on a ventilator for eight days,” said McCloskey. “They had me on all kinds of drugs, so it was the following Wednesday before I became aware and I was told what happened.”

“The doctor said that I died there and if it wasn’t for Michelle, I wouldn’t have made it,” said McCloskey, who just couldn’t put into words how grateful she was to Kight and the others who kept her alive.

The two woman officially met for the first time on Monday night at the Pequannock first aid event.

“Meeting Joanne was probably one of the most amazing things that’s ever happened to me, personally,” said Kight.

“It was unbelievable,” said McCloskey. “I was overwhelmed meeting Michelle.” She then described many hugs and lots of tears. “I can’t even explain how I feel, because I am so thankful, and I can never repay them for what they did,” she said. 

Kight became an EMT because she was taking care of a very sick relative. “I enjoyed the class so much that I decided to give it a go and became a volunteer.” That was six years ago, and since then she has become an EMT instructor at the Wayne Public Safety Academy which is run by Passaic County Community College.

“I had this profound sense of being in the right place at the right time,” said Kight.  “My husband and I have very set routines, and in eight years of marriage, we have never gone shopping on a Saturday morning except for this one, so it feels that we were led there that day.”  

Because of that decision, McCloskey is alive today.