Quinnipiac student recognized by the Hamden Fire Department for saving a man’s life

Vander May shaking hands with Hamden Fire Chief at a podium

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ourtney Vander May, a graduate physical therapy student at Quinnipiac, was recognized by the Hamden Fire Department on Monday for saving a man’s life last month at a town restaurant.

Vander May was working as a waitress at Side Street Grille in Hamden on January 19 when 63-year-old Joe, a regular customer, collapsed and went into cardiac arrest.

Vander May instructed a co-worker to call 911 and began performing chest compressions on the man, who did not have a pulse. She also used her smartwatch to track the duration and details of the event and kept the man alive until Hamden firefighters and emergency personnel arrived. The man remains hospitalized.

“It is extraordinarily rare that a citizen jumps in and helps at a medical event,” Hamden Fire Chief Gary Merwede said. “Not only did she get CPR training and education from Quinnipiac, but she actually used it. She demonstrated calmness under stress, cared for a member of our community and provided valuable assistance to our first responders.”

Vander May, who earned a bachelor’s degree in health science studies from Quinnipiac in 2018, said she has worked at Side Street for about three years. She said the university requires students in her major to be certified in CPR and she merely put her training to work.

“He didn’t have a pulse, so I did everything I could to save his life,” she recalled. “I was yelling at him, ‘C’mon, breathe! Keep going!’ He started breathing again on his own. Somehow, I remembered my training in the stress of the moment. It was the first time and hopefully the last, but I’m glad I know CPR.”

Vander May was recognized during a ceremony Monday morning at Hamden Town Hall in which two firefighters received promotions and four new firefighters were sworn in by Town Clerk Vera Morrison.

Vander May was accompanied by her parents, as well as Janelle Chiasera, dean of the School of Health Sciences at Quinnipiac, Phillip Brewer, MD, university medical director for student health services, and Christy Chase, QU’s director of student health services.

“Courtney’s actions speak volumes about the students we have at Quinnipiac,” Chiasera said.

Brewer concurred, adding, “Saving a life is a terrific thing and it is always great when one of our students is a hero. She is a wonderful example of our health sciences education being put to the test.”

Vander May received a certificate of recognition from the Hamden Fire Department and acknowledgment from Mayor Curt Balzano Leng.

“It was absolutely terrifying,” she said of putting her CPR training to use. “They say you do not really know if you are a fight or flight person until you are put into the situation. I’m really thankful that I was able to fight to keep him alive, remember everything I needed to do, and save him.”