MICHIGAN CITY – A man pulled from the waters of Lake Michigan on Monday afternoon was given CPR by a nurse who just happened to be at the beach because of her own injury.
Jennifer Freese, of Michigan City, is a registered nurse at Franciscan Health Michigan City, and said she's performed CPR hundreds of times while working in the ER, so it came naturally.
The man was pulled from the lake about 2:15 p.m. Monday in Washington Park, according to Indiana Department of Natural Resources Law Enforcement spokesman Terri Millefoglie.
The 48-year-old was pulled from the water by other beachgoers, according to Michigan City Fire Chief Randy Novak.
The only reason Freese was at the beach that day was because she is suffering plantar fasciitis is unable to work, so she went to the beach with a friend.
"It was a nice beautiful day, but very hot," she recalled. "We had just gotten out of the water when I see them pulling a body out of the water. We went down to see what was going on, and it didn't look good."
Freese checked for a pulse and could not find one, so she went to work.
"Someone was starting to do CPR, and I said I'm a nurse so they let me do it. I started CPR and we were able to get a pulse," she said.
Her friend, Shelly Nulf – a medical assistant from Fremont, Indiana, who was visiting for the day – then took over the CPR duties.
"I think I did it for about 3 1/2 minutes," Freese said. "It can get tiring. Shelly also had a rescue mask on a keychain, so we were able to use that as well."
Even with the first aid, she said it didn't look good.
"He never woke up all the time we were there. He was pretty blue and there was water coming up out of his mouth. I'm surprised he made it."
When EMTs arrived, they took over and the man, identified by police as Mark Gaff, was taken to Franciscan Health, and later airlifted to a South Bend hospital, according to Michigan City police.
He remained in critical condition as of Monday night, according to Millefoglie. Freese said she had been told he was on life support, and may have suffered a medical condition while in the water.
"It just feel surreal," she said. "I really want to know what happened to him."
She had not seen the man previously on the beach, though "I really wasn't paying that much attention. We were in the water."
Police later found a bag next to a beach towel, along with a pair of sandals and a kite kit. A cell phone and wallet in the bag helped identify the victim, police said.
The incident is under investigation by DNR Law Enforcement.
The beach at Washington Park has been unguarded during weekday hours since mid-August, though Freese said the water was smooth and calm Monday. Lifeguards will be on duty from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily over the upcoming three-day Labor Day weekend.
Being a nurse, Freese said she doesn't feel like she did anything heroic.
"I don't feel like a hero. I've been a nurse for 21 years. Doing CPR is like riding a bike. It's second nature. I've done it hundreds of times, though this was the first time outside of a controlled environment.
"You just do it. There was no thought process. It's my job and that's what I do."