The first date was going well so the couple lingered and talked for about 45 minutes after their meal at The Cheesecake Factory on the Country Club Plaza.
Suddenly, the 50-something man coughed three times, stood up from the booth and fell face-first to the floor.
“Good lord it was scary,” said Janie Hall of Joplin, who met the man for the first time for lunch Friday. “We had a wonderful conversation. It was like a light switch. One minute he was talking about family, and then he’s, like, dead. His body was as stiff as can be.”
Hall, a former respiratory therapist with experience in a trauma unit, sprang to action, asking another patron to help her roll the man over. He had no pulse.
Becca Bartholomew, a server who happened to have training in CPR, rushed to help. The two took turns doing compressions on the man’s chest while other employees called 911. General manager Jackie Cockrill soon arrived at the scene, which was on the second floor of the dining area.
Nobody knew the man. Nobody knew his medical history.
“They were performing CPR on this gentleman and he was unconscious, or not breathing, for about four minutes, I’m guessing,” Cockrill said. “We had other patrons. Everyone was kind of in shock and watching. Everybody was very concerned.”
A faint pulse returned just as everyone heard the ambulance arrive outside the restaurant.
“He gasped for his first breath as the paramedics got there,” Cockrill said.
The man was taken to a hospital, where he remained in recovery Monday.
“Every staff member worked together as a team,” Hall said. “Someone else was on the floor with us counting compressions. The staff was trying to keep the other patrons calm.”
Cockrill said her staff is trained to be compassionate and caring for their guests. Bartholomew was not on the schedule to work Friday.
“Becca was not supposed to be serving that day but ended up taking that shift,” Cockrilll said. “She was meant to be there that day.”
Hall said the man, who has two daughters, could easily have died if not for the quick action of the restaurant employees.
“He’s fortunate he gets to celebrate another birthday, on Wednesday,” she said.