When Lorie Craig answered her telephone Saturday afternoon in North Carolina, she felt a tingling sensation across her face and her heart hurt.
She listened as Mark O. Newton, a Baltimore credit card salesman, began his usual pitch by introducing himself and asking her how she was feeling.
She told him she thought she was having a stroke.
"If he hadn't called, I don't know what would have happened," said Mrs. Craig, as she was being released yesterday from Caldwell Memorial Hospital in her hometown of Lenoir, N.C.
From nearly 300 miles away over the telephone, Mr. Newton and his supervisor, Ernie Reitz, managed to get help to the 67-year-old widow in a matter of minutes.
"The first thing I thought was, 'Oh boy,' " said Mr. Newton, 28, of Baltimore, a telemarketing sales representative with Citibank of Maryland. "Then I realized I had to maintain my composure to give her some assistance."
The incident began about 1 p.m. as Mr. Newton was calling customers eligible for a Choice Visa card. When he reached Mrs. Craig, she told him that she was alone in her ranch-style home and not feeling well, but that she planned to wait for her brother-in-law to come home later that evening.
"I didn't feel comfortable exiting the call so I convinced her it would be in her best interest to let us try and get some help for her," said Mr. Newton, who continued to gather information to give to paramedics.
While Mr. Newton kept Mrs. Craig on the line, Mr. Reitz called North Carolina's directory assistance operator and asked to be connected with emergency personnel.
"I tried to call 911 in North Carolina, but the operator wouldn't let me do it," said Mr. Reitz, 26, of Catonsville, a telemarketing sales manager with Citibank. "I had to convince them it was not a prank call before the operator gave me the number for the emergency medical service for the area."
Mr. Reitz also contacted Mrs. Craig's sister, Mary Chapman, a retired grocery store worker, who had no idea where he was calling from.
"Really, I didn't know where he was from, but I'd have to say that they saved her life," said Mrs. Chapman, who lives about five minutes away from her sister. "I just thanked him for his call and took off" for Mrs. Craig's house.
Paramedics arrived shortly after Mrs. Chapman reached her sister's house and took Mrs. Craig to Caldwell Memorial Hospital, where she was admitted that evening.
Doctors found that Mrs. Craig had not suffered a stroke. Rather, she had a hiatal hernia in her upper abdomen that caused her to hyperventilate, one of the symptoms of a stroke. Additional medication was prescribed for her.
"She perceived it as life-threatening," said Dr. John Bowen, who treated Mrs. Craig. "But it is very hard to tell ahead of time whether or not something is seriously wrong."
Whether it was life-threatening or not, Mrs. Craig said she is glad Mr. Newton called when he did. Her sister agrees.
"There are no words to tell how much I appreciate what he did for my sister," Mrs. Chapman said.
Mr. Newton sees his deed as an example of the "do unto others" proverb.
"I feel as though that if I were in that situation, I would want someone to help me," Mr. Newton said. "Your life is a precious gift. If you ever have the opportunity to help someone preserve that, you should do what you have to."
But despite the appreciation she feels for Mr. Newton's efforts, Mrs. Craig said she won't get a Choice Visa.
"He doesn't know how much he did for me," said Mrs. Craig, laughing. "But I'm not getting a card. Oh no. I have charge cards now that I seldom use. I don't need another one."