Greg Reed doesn’t know what made him take the long way back to his job in Woonsocket one day, but it proved to be a lifesaver for Ken Beck, who was slumped over his wheel on Route 146 after suffering a heart attack.

Adele Beck’s phone rang in her Lincoln home around 3 p.m. She is 70 years old and her husband Ken, also 70, was late getting back from playing golf.

A female voice asked her if this was the residence of Kenneth Beck.

Adele could tell something was wrong.

“This is his wife,” she said.

She and Ken were enjoying retirement after selling their longtime Providence business, KB Laminate, which distributed materials like Formica and melamine.

The woman said Ken was in Miriam Hospital — she should come right away.

 

Soon, Adele was in its Emergency Department, a nurse pointing her toward a curtained-off room.

She was told her husband was unconscious inside with a breathing tube. He’d had a heart attack while driving.

A cardiologist stepped out, greeted her and immediately gestured toward someone standing nearby.

“This young man saved your husband’s life,” the doctor said.

Then a nurse emerged and said the same thing. Yet another nurse walking by said it, too.

Soon, Adele would hear it was the talk of the hospital. She was told it’s not common for someone with a stopped heart to be save by CPR, but it happened with Ken.

The young man’s name, she was told, was Greg Reed.

 

Reed, who lives in Smithfield, is 28, a solid 6-footer weighing 215 pounds. He now works as a district manager for Autopart International, but he spent three years as a paramedic and firefighter in Westboro, Massachusetts, near Worcester.

That same Friday, he was driving his company Nissan Rogue north on Route 146 toward the company’s Woonsocket store when a random impulse told him to take the long way there, via Mineral Spring Avenue.

He’s not sure why.

As he approached the exit ramp, he noticed a black SUV stopped in the right breakdown lane. Traffic slowed as cars navigated around it.

When Reed passed, he saw a man slumped over the steering wheel with his seat belt on.

It brought back his EMT instincts.

 

Reed stopped his car on the left-side shoulder, got out and tried to open the SUV’s driver door.

It was locked.

Reed banged on the window. No reaction.

By now, a few others had stopped, and a man asked Reed if things were okay.

“No,” said Reed, “the guy’s passed out.”

Still in EMT mode, he asked the man if he had anything to smash a window.

The guy did — and in moments came back with a hammer.

 

Reed knew that if it was a heart attack, every second increased the chance of death.

With no hesitation, he went behind the SUV and smashed its rear windshield. It shattered into pieces, but Reed saw that the back seats were too high to crawl over.

He rushed to the rear door behind the driver, then remembered from his fire-department days that the main window was likely to be safety glass and hard to get through, so he hit the vent glass next to it. It exploded.

He reached, in, unlocked the door, crawled in and shook the driver’s shoulder. He was an older man with white hair and beard.

“Sir — are you okay?”

No response.

 

Reed felt the man’s wrist, then his carotid artery. No pulse.

He undid the seat belt, got out, and, with his hands under the man’s arms, pulled him onto the asphalt.

A small group had now gathered, and Reed told a nearby woman to cradle the man’s head. She did.

Still no pulse.

Reed knelt to the man’s right, put the heel of his left hand on the man’s sternum with his right hand over it, and, with straight elbows, began chest compressions.

He made sure to snap fully back up after each to get a good recoil.

Reed knew he was in a race to manually force blood to keep the man’s tissues oxygenated.

At one point, he felt the cartilage around the sternum break. But he’d learned that’s the price of doing it right.

He recalled that “civilian CPR” — without a face mask to bag in pure oxygen — shouldn’t pause for mouth-to-mouth; there was more benefit in compressions.

 

After a few minutes, a policeman was there, ready to jump in.

“I used to do this,” said Reed. “I got it. Do you have an AED?” He meant a defibrillator.

The officer didn’t, but he knelt on the other side.

“Let me know when you’re tired,” he said.

After another minute, Reed nodded. “It’s your turn.”

 

Then the place was swarming with responders, two firefighters rushing up with a stretcher.

Reed helped lift the man onto it and watched as they took him into an ambulance.

He knew the paramedics would now go into full advanced cardiac life support — drugs and shocks.

As a state trooper began taking down Reed’s name and details, a North Providence cop told them, “They got pulses back.”

Everyone shook hands. They’d made the save.

 

Something about this struck Reed differently than when he was an EMT responding to active 911 scenes. Being a civilian and the first to chance upon a rescue made it more personal.

He wanted to know: Would the man be all right?

He drove to Miriam Hospital.

Reed learned the man’s name — Ken Beck — and that he’d had a heart attack. He was introduced to Beck’s wife, Adele, who was overwhelmed but took Reed by the hand to thank him.

Reed stayed on into the night with the family as Ken Beck was taken to the cath lab for a stent to fix the cause of the attack — a blocked artery.

The staff said it would be at least several days before they’d know if he would survive.

 

But Ken Beck woke the next morning with full cognitive function. He came home from the hospital after three weeks.

It happened in August.

A month later, Adele invited Greg Reed to come to Ken’s 70th birthday party.

It was a surprise — and the first time Greg and Ken met properly.

The two embraced.

Adele said the doctors told her it would have been a “widow-maker” if not for Greg.

 

Today, Reed feels he and the Becks have become like family. They’ve even gone to a Patriots game together.

I asked Adele Beck why she reached out now to tell me about this story.

She said she’d tried before — but got something wrong and her emails didn’t go through.

But she kept at it, because she felt it important that people know about the young man who could have driven past but stopped instead.

And, as she put it, became an angel on her husband’s shoulder.

— Mark Patinkin’s columns run Sundays and Wednesdays.

mpatinki@providencejournal.com

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