Derek Raschke, pictured in the Wellness Room at Newburyport High, where he learned CPR with help from this mannequin, used his skills to save a man at Farley Clothiers.

NEWBURYPORT — Derek Raschke spent a recent Friday at John Farley Clothiers completing a task millions of high school seniors are charged with each spring: finding the right tuxedo for the prom.

But before Raschke, 18, could finish choosing the right bow tie or the proper cummerbund or the perfect vest, another customer, Bert Carey, 63, collapsed to the floor with sudden cardiac syndrome. Carey's son, Jonathan, said Raschke and his father were at Carey's aide within 20 seconds.

"There is no other way to say it: They saved his life," Jonathan Carey said by phone from Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, where his father is recovering. "The percentage of people who survive this is very small, and it is all a matter of getting CPR started quickly and all about getting blood and oxygen to the brain.

"And Derek did that."

On its face, the story of Raschke and Bert Carey is a tale of heroism: Raschke performed cardiopulmonary resuscitation, or CPR, on Carey, a complete stranger more than four decades his senior, rescuing him from the grasp of death.

But a closer look into the events shows a tale that interweaves an incredible chain of circumstances — a Newburyport High School program cut due to classroom restraints, teachers who fought to restore it, a student who learned its lessons and applied them, and the outpouring of joy from a grateful family that is looking to show its thankfulness through philanthropy.

Fight for program

Not often does an education department budgetary line item make the difference between life and death. But an expenditure of just $2,400 in February did just that.

More than five years ago, the city's students started going without CPR training, which for years was a requirement for graduation. The programs stopped when high school students moved to the middle school during a construction project and classroom space was unavailable for the lifesaving course at the new building.

But the program returned this February when the school's nurse, Lorna Hossack, and its wellness chairwoman, Amy Heath, fought to get funding for the program and make CPR again a requirement for graduation.

Hossack said finding funding was difficult, which is not surprising considering the poor financial state of the School Department, which is still reeling from spending cuts.

After much scraping, Heath and Hossack were able to secure funding from the Essential School Health Grant, which paid for teacher training and certification. Money for the books came from Hossack's school budget. All together, the cost came to about $2,400, Hossack said.

Starting in February, each of the high school's almost 200 seniors was required to take the semester-long class.

One of those students was Raschke.

And as Cynthia Raschke, Derek's mother, said, "It was meant to be.

"Perfect timing."

Derek Raschke

Wearing baggy jeans with several tears on the front, sporting a dark blue hooded Polo sweat shirt and covering his longish hair with a DC Shoes ball cap, Raschke fit in well with his peers yesterday at Newburyport High School.

But not many of his friends can likely relate to his recent experience.

Just two weeks prior to resuscitating Carey, Raschke completed a CPR course, earning certification in the lifesaving practice.

He said he remembers sitting in the class watching "ridiculous" videos in which those who knew CPR saved lives in very unlikely situations.

"You watch them and you think, 'that won't happen,'" he said. "But it did."

Raschke, a soft-spoken and humble teenager, said when Carey first collapsed, his dad, a former lifeguard who knew an antiquated version of CPR, first came to Carey's rescue, but soon realized that Derek just finished a course.

"I just took over for him," he said.

But Raschke — despite the praise from teachers, principals and others — said he doesn't feel like a hero.

"I just feel like I did what I should've done, what I've been taught," he said.

At the end of the ordeal, when Carey was finally taken from the clothing store, he was unconscious and in critical condition, Raschke said. At that time, Raschke said he wasn't thinking about what he'd just done, but rather about the well-being of the man he'd saved.

"I was just worried about him," Raschke said. "I wasn't thinking about anything else."

But John Allison, the owner of the clothing store, said Raschke deserves a hero's praise. Allison said when the incident happened, Carey was "literally dead when he hit the floor."

Allison said Raschke "was as cool and calm and collected as anyone I've ever seen my whole life."

"We didn't have a pulse several times," Allison said. "Derek got him breathing again."

Members of Allison's staff called 911, but it was Raschke's efforts that kept Carey alive.

"He didn't hesitate," Allison said. "And he just hung in there until the medic took over."

Both Hossack and Heath said they were proud of the graduating senior's work.

"It is one thing to get certification, but it is another thing for someone to actually act," Heath said. "To give mouth to mouth without a barrier, I just think that says a lot about the kid."

Hossack added: "It is just uncanny."

Bert Carey

Like many New Englanders over the past several nights, Bert Carey, a Lynnfield resident, watched as the Boston Celtics continued on the path to the NBA championship and as Jon Lester threw a remarkable no-hitter against the Kansas City Royals.

Unlike most, though, Carey took in the games from his room at Mass General. But that, Carey's son said, is a perfectly fine.

The major concern, Jonathan Carey said, was that a lack of oxygen to his father's brain would affect his father's mental capacity. But after five days of sedation at the hospital — with family members' fingers crossed — Bert Carey woke up with his mental facilities fully intact.

"We were sitting in the room talking about cars," he said. "Normal, everyday conversation. He is absolutely our father and in stable condition.

"He has bounced back beautifully, and that is the sole result of the CPR that Derek performed and how fast they got to him to keep his heart beating and oxygen moving through his body."

Jonathan Carey said he is "forever grateful" to Derek Raschke, but said his family also considers Hossack and Heath saviors, too.

"They might not have been on the floor with my dad, but without them fighting to get the program reinstated...," he said, trailing off, but then continuing:

"They are heroes to our family just as much as Derek is."

Jonathan said his family is looking into what kind of funding is needed to make sure the CPR program at the school is always taught in Newburyport and is considering setting up some sort of fund.

"We would like to make sure this program never goes away again," he said. "Our family will work to try to make sure that program is never taken away again."

He then summed up why: "Derek just happened to be at the store, and just happened to take the class, which just happened to be reinstated at the high school this year by two women who fought for it. If all that didn't happen, my father would be dead right now."

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