Nicholas Demaske felt exhausted as he boarded a bus for home at about 10 p.m. last July 18, following a 14-hour workday.
Demaske, 36, had just settled into a seat as the bus driver approached the Christian W. Klay Winery in Chalk Hill, Fayette County.
When Demaske glanced out his window, he noticed a car pulled over with headlights on, the driver’s door open and a woman slumped over.
The bus driver pulled over and called 911. At the same time, Demaske, a recovering drug addict who had been hired at a Fayette County halfway house two weeks earlier and underwent cardiopulmonary resuscitation training there, sprang into action.
“I carried her over to the first picnic table, and all the signs were pointing to an overdose, so I started doing CPR – the chest compressions, the rescue breaths – and I did that for approximately 15 minutes,” said Demaske.
When the ambulance arrived, first responders administered two doses of Narcan and transported the woman to Uniontown Hospital.
She was alive, Demaske said, when she arrived at the hospital.
When he got home that night, Demaske couldn’t sleep.
“First, I was full of adrenaline. I was kind of happy and excited afterward,” he said.
But while he was saving the woman’s life, Demaske, a Waynesburg native and longtime resident who now lives in Uniontown, was thinking of of his late wife, Sharon, who died of an overdose in 2013.
“My wife overdosed five years ago, and I woke up and I found her, and I wasn’t experienced and I couldn’t do anything at the time,” said Demaske. “So my mindset was, ‘Please God, please help me through this, please God, let this woman live. Don’t let her end up being like my wife. Please give her another chance.’ I was just ecstatic that she lived.”
For his efforts to save the life of the woman, Demaske has been selected for the ExtraOrdinary People Award.
Demaske hasn’t contacted the woman and doesn’t know how she is doing, but now, nearly a year later, he is hoping she embraces her second chance at life.
That’s what Demaske did, almost two years ago.
Demaske recalled sitting in front of the Greene County Courthouse, a bag of clean clothes on one side and a bag of dirty clothes on the other, considering his life: He was homeless, hadn’t held a job in about 15 years, had lost his wife, and his children, Jasmine, now 14, and Nicholas Demaske III, now 8, had been taken away from him and placed in his parents’ custody.
Since he was 15, Demaske had spent most of his time drinking and taking drugs – anything from marijuana and prescription pain medication to heroin and cocaine.
“I’ve slept in graveyards, I’ve slept in parks, I’ve burned about every single bridge I ever made in my life,” he said.
He considered suicide – he’d tried once before – but instead decided to enter rehab.
An 18-day stay at Pyramid Health in Duncansville, followed by a six-month stay at Another Way Men’s Halfway House in Fayette County, provided Demaske with structure and strategies to battle his drug use.
“When I left the halfway house, I left with responsibility, accountability and understanding of commitment,” said Demaske, soft-spoken and earnest.
He also left with a desire to help others through addiction.
Demaske, who celebrates two years of being drug-free in August, works as many as 65 hours a week – he has a full-time job at Another Way and a part-time job at Senior Life, a nursing home in Uniontown.
His responsibilities include shuttling clients to 12-step meetings and supervising them at various functions, and holding clients accountable for actions and behaviors.
“I’m on the other side of the fence now, and it’s beautiful,” said Demaske. “The only thing I can really give (clients) is hope. I can give them a little bit of hope by sharing my experience and my stories.”
He said many clients thank him for his support and guidance after they leave the halfway house.
He has worked to make amends with the people he believes he failed throughout his addiction, including his family.
“I’m very proud of him. I wasn’t going to give up on him,” said Demaske’s mother, Robin. “I knew he had to find himself, and now that he’s found himself, the sky is the limit. I know it’s a daily struggle, and obstacles come up, but he will never go backward. He goes to Another Way every day and it reminds him of where he came from and how far he’s come, and he wants to help others.”
Demaske is working to forgive himself, too.
“The biggest people on my amends list was myself and my wife, and she’s no longer here, so it’s kind of a living amends. I stay clean and sober today for me and her,” he said. “My kids, the biggest thing I can give them is my time. It’s the best thing I can give them.”
And he does. Demaske attends his children’s activities and events as often as possible, including Jasmine’s travel softball games. Earlier this month, when Jasmine had wisdom teeth pulled, Demaske was there.
“I find myself in a good place,” said Demaske. “I’m not running around lying to everybody. I can openly be honest and talk about everything I’ve been through. I’m just grateful.”
As part of the ExtraORdinary People award, Nicholas Demaske will be given $500, underwritten by the Observer-Reporter and Range Resources, to donate to the charity of his choice. He has chosen Another Way Inc., recreation fund.