Marissa D'Arpino believes everything in life happens for a reason.
To her, it was more than a coincidence that she got a call from her part-time job at American Eagle the morning of Saturday, Oct. 27, asking if she could come in that day. D'Arpino, who is from Auburn, arrived at the Destiny USA store around 9 a.m. for her four-hour shift. A couple hours went by, like any normal day. Then, she said, employees started running around the store, and it was suddenly clear that something was wrong.
"The store manager ran out from the break room," D'Arpino, 23, recalled last week, "and she yelled, 'I need somebody to do CPR, Kayla is having a seizure!'
"I grabbed her arm and I said, 'Do you need me to do it?' and she said, 'Yes, go,'" D'Arpino continued. "I went into this mode ... I feel like I was there physically, but something took over me and I didn't even think — I just did it."
When D'Arpino ran into the tiny break room in the back of the store, the first thing she saw were Kayla Scholz's feet. She then noticed Scholz was blue from her nose to her neck, and within seconds, D'Arpino dropped to her knees and began administering CPR, to the relief of coworker Sarah Sweeney.
"I remember when I was doing it, her chest was rising and I felt air coming out of her nose past my fingers," D'Arpino said. "So I knew that it was working. I knew I was doing it right in that moment."
She did seven to nine rounds of CPR, each consisting of 30 chest compressions and two breaths.
A mall security member was there monitoring Scholz's pulse, but he told D'Arpino he wasn't allowed to give CPR. So she kept going until the emergency medical technicians arrived, nearly 10 minutes after the call to 911, and they announced that the 18-year-old Scholz was in full cardiac arrest.
Shaking, D'Arpino went back into the store, now closed. All her coworkers, about 10 of them — either pacing or sitting in shock — turned to look at her. Dripping in sweat, D'Arpino washed her face and neck in the bathroom and sat on the floor to wait with her coworkers. About 20 minutes later, D'Arpino said, Scholz left the store on a stretcher with a sheet over her head.
"It was just very horrific," D'Arpino said. "It was a lot so fast."
D'Arpino's manager sent her home, and she called her parents in tears to tell them what happened. She wondered if she did the right thing, and if it was enough. She has no recollection of her 35-minute drive home from the store, and took a three-hour nap to sleep it off. D'Arpino said her arms were so sore on Sunday that she could barely move them.
When Monday rolled around, D'Arpino was back to her full-time job at AAA in Syracuse. In the quiet, sitting at her desk, what she had gone through began to hit her for the first time, she said. She wanted to know what was going on, if Scholz was alive. After breaking down at work, D'Arpino said, her boss sent her home.
After some Facebook research, D'Arpino found out that Scholz was in a coma, and people weren't sure if she was going to make it. She then found Scholz's parents on Facebook and messaged each of them, introducing herself, apologizing for the situation and explaining how she was involved. Until they started chatting, Scholz's parents had no idea CPR was administered in the store and thought she was without oxygen from the time the 911 call went out until EMTs arrived.
D'Arpino learned that Scholz clinically died in the ambulance, but was brought back to life at the hospital and placed into an induced coma. When she woke up, she was confused, had no recollection of the weekend and had forgotten how to read and write, D'Arpino said. Scholz was in the hospital for about two weeks.
About two weeks after the incident, D'Arpino got to meet Scholz and her family at Syracuse Fire Department Station No. 2, as the chief brought together the family, emergency responders, D'Arpino and Sweeney to meet and learn more about what happened.
"She walked into the fire station and we all were in shock," D'Arpino said of Scholz. The last D'Arpino knew, Scholz was in a wheelchair. "It was a happy day," she added.
"She was laughing and smiling and hugging us," she said, noting this was only her third time meeting Scholz. "I was hugging her like a friend I knew for a long time. ... We'll always have this connection and this bond forever.
"Her mom just lost it ... she just fell into my arms (and said), 'Thank you for saving my baby,'" D'Arpino said. "The doctors said if it weren't for me and Sarah, the other employee, doing CPR, she probably would not have survived. Or at least she wouldn't have gained all her cognitive abilities back."
As Scholz's mom hugged D'Arpino again before she left, she teased, "Are you the one that broke my baby's ribs?" D'Arpino wished the family happy holidays, and said Scholz's mom told her, "This is going to be the best Thanksgiving we've ever had."
In January, D'Arpino was honored alongside Sweeney and the first responders for saving Scholz's life in Syracuse Mayor Ben Walsh's State of the City Address. D'Arpino said she felt proud during the ceremony, but her main hope is that through sharing the story, more people will understand the importance of CPR and be encouraged to get certified.
"It does save lives, clearly," D'Arpino said. "I've realized how important it is to become CPR-certified. ... You can't put value on a life, so I feel it's completely necessary, it's not difficult."
She said the certification process is about four hours long, and since the incident, Scholz's whole immediate family has become certified. D'Arpino's family is going to get certified, too. Both of D'Arpino's employers, American Eagle Corporate and the Western and Central New York AAA, are also now looking into certifying all their employees.
"To me, I always feel like everything happens for a reason," D'Arpino said. "The fact that I was there at the right time is crazy to me ... I feel like I found my reason I was put on this earth."