SAN RAMON -- Call it a nurse's sixth sense, divine intervention.-- or, maybe, even the stars aligning just right.
But on the afternoon of Sept. 29, when Mark Sessler, of San Ramon, walked into Ruggies' restaurant and went into sudden cardiac arrest, a San Ramon nurse was there too, at the right time and place to help save his life.
Laura Garland was having lunch with her family after church, but she had a hunch when she entered the restaurant that something wasn't quite right.
She said she glanced into the man's face when they passed each other near the entrance, and she had an odd twinge that he wasn't feeling well.
"Something didn't feel right," she said. As a nurse with 20 years of experience, she said her last 15 years have been spent specializing in the care of premature infants, not adults, but it was an odd, indescribable feeling, nonetheless. "A nurse's sixth sense," she said.
That's why some time later, when she heard the man's waitress, Traci Coulson of San Ramon, call for help and exclaim, "We need to wake him up!" Garland, in the middle of her lunch, sprang into action.
Sessler, 71, was slumped over in his booth. His face was "dusty and blue, and it was obvious he wasn't breathing," Garland recalled.
Under her direction, a number of bystanders -- some five or six people -- moved the booth's table out of the way- and laid him on the ground so she could administer CPR.
Meanwhile, Coulson, who had called 911, stayed on the phone relaying San Ramon Valley Fire Dispatcher Polly Moniz's life-saving tips, until a paramedics crew arrived.
"Everybody in the restaurant was just amazing," Garland said. "It was truly a team effort."
Two months later, Coulson says she is still is deeply affected by that day --- still struck by how close a call it was.
"I'm just so relieved.. It was traumatic, really," she said, her voice still solemn. "It was like a miracle, to be honest with you."
That day at the restaurant was surreal enough, but later that day, Coulson received a surprising call. It was from her friend Kim Williams who wanted to know what had happened. It was then that Coulson learned the man they had rescued, who had been in the restaurant alone and whose name they didn't know, was her friend's father.
That fact never stops to amaze her.
"I'd never met him, but his grandson has been playing baseball with my son for five years now," she said.
She said that since that time, she has gotten regular updates from her friend on her father's progress, and that the two families feel a bond that is impossible to describe -- but that is quite obvious to others that see them together now.
During a Nov. 21 awards presentation by the San Ramon Valley Fire Protection District, that reunited the rescuers with Sessler and his family, there was "not a dry eye in the house," said Kimberly French, a district spokeswoman.
"We are so very thankful to everyone who helped save my husband's life," Darlene Sessler said during the emotional reunion. "We will truly have the most wonderful Thanksgiving this year."
"And the embrace between Mrs. Sessler aAnd Laura Garland was so genuine," French recalled. "She just kept saying -- 'Thank you, thank you, thank you for helping save him.'"
Also honored for their roles in the rescue were dispaatcher Polly Moniz, as well as San Ramon Fire Capt. Jim Selover, Capt. Matt Terry, engineers Matt Mariolle and Scott Balch, and firefighter/paramedics Casey Rivers and Chris Stevenson.
Contact Joyce Tsai at 925-847-2123. Follow her at Twitter.com/JoyceTsaiNews.