SAN JOSE -- "Ma'am, are you OK?"
Valley Transportation Authority bus driver Janell Rubbo had a feeling she knew the answer, but she repeated the question a few more times to a woman who was lying on the ground near a bus bench at the Diridon Station near downtown San Jose.
When the woman did not respond, Rubbo took the stranger's wrist and felt for a pulse. Nothing.
The veteran bus driver ran to her bus, grabbed a cellphone and called 911. And with the help of a San Jose Fire Department dispatcher, Rubbo continuously performed chest compressions for seven to nine minutes until paramedics arrived.
The woman, who appeared to be 65 to 70 years old, regained a pulse before she was rushed away in an ambulance.
"It was a relief, and I was happy that I was able to do that," Rubbo said.
Nearly a month after she helped save the woman's life, Rubbo said, "I'm still in shock I was able to do that."
On June 11, Rubbo was in the middle of her shift driving the Line 64 route from McKee and White roads to the Diridon Station. After a break, she returned to the Diridon Station to relieve another driver and was performing her daily safety bus check.
That's when she looked at the bus stop and noticed an African-American woman between the ages of 65 and 70 lying on the ground of San Jose's busiest transit station.
Rubbo said it's not uncommon for her to see people napping or resting on bus benches.
But this was different.
"The reason I approached her is where her head was," Rubbo said. "It was lodged under the bus shelter. That's what caught my eye."
Rubbo watched the woman's chest for movement and saw nothing. That's when she checked for a pulse.
When she called 911, the dispatcher asked Rubbo if she knew CPR. She did but had not taken a refresher course in about five years. Rubbo worked as a school bus driver for the Franklin-McKinkley School District for 20 years and took a CPR certification every other year during that time.
The dispatcher told her, "I want you to know, once you start you can't stop until paramedics get there."
Rubbo agreed, put the dispatcher on speaker and began.
"It was 100 compressions, 200 compressions, 350 compressions," Rubbo said. "Six to seven minutes later I could hear sirens."
At one point while performing the compressions, Rubbo became overwhelmed. She was sweating, and her bare knees were burning on the hot pavement. Although there were scores of people around, no one answered her cries for help.
But the dispatcher stayed on the line, encouraging Rubbo the entire time.
"She said, 'You're doing a great job, keep it up,'" Rubbo said. "She had a soothing voice."
Rubbo was still doing chest compressions when a firefighter took her hands off the woman's chest. Rubbo fell onto her backside.
"I was exhausted, overwhelmed," Rubbo said. "It was like an out-of-body experience."
The Santa Clara County Sheriff's Office also responded to the incident. It was while talking to a deputy that a firefighter approached Rubbo to tell her paramedics had gotten a pulse.
Rubbo was physically and mentally drained after performing CPR in the hot afternoon sun. Another driver finished her route.
"I was here when she came back from the incident, and she looked totally exhausted," said Dawn Wright, Rubbo's supervisor. "She just looked like she was worn out. She quietly said, 'I can't finish my workday.'"
Rubbo's colleagues were not surprised to hear about her actions. Some of Rubbo's co-workers are lobbying for Rubbo to be named employee of the month, Wright said. Rubbo is expected to be honored by the Valley Transportation Authority board of directors, according to spokeswoman Brandie Childress.
"When things like that happen, operators get on a bandwagon," Wright said. "It really creates a great morale with her peers."
Rubbo can't remember the name of the dispatcher who remained on the phone with her as she performed CPR. She doesn't know the name of the woman she helped or what happened once she left the scene.
Rubbo is convinced the woman is someone's mother or grandmother.
"If it was my mom, I would surely want someone to help," she said.
Contact Mark Gomez at 408-920-5869. Follow him at Twitter.com/markmgomez.