Playing table tennis with your friend one minute, frantically trying to save his life the next.

That’s the scenario Tim Meschke was faced with and, to use a ping pong metaphor, he served an ace.

The 42-year-old Rapidan native and 61-year-old buddy Dan Smolens were playing the game in Meschke’s backyard in Oxnard, Calif., when Smolens sank to one knee, then toppled to the ground unconscious.

Meschke began mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, then surmised his friend had suffered a heart attack.

The 1985 graduate of now-defunct Wellcome Memorial High School in Garden City had been trained in CPR in the Navy, then later for his current job with the National Weather Service in Oxnard.

But although his certification had expired, Meschke said he was able to recall what to do in an instant.

“It popped right into my head. I felt totally prepared and totally confident,” he said this week from his home.

He began pumping Smolens’ chest as he yelled to his wife to call 911.

“I said to myself, ‘I can’t believe I’m doing this.’ The situation was almost surreal, almost dreamlike.”

As Meschke kept pumping, he heard a siren in the distance. Paramedics arrived within minutes and took over the chest compressions.

No heartbeat.

A defibrillator was employed — 2,000 volts at 40 amps to Smolens’ chest. That did it.

Smolens was rushed to a hospital, underwent surgery, and later was told by his doctor that the type of cardiac event he suffered nearly always results in death.

Because of Meschke’s quick actions, Smolens not only survived but suffered no brain damage from lack of oxygen, even though he was without a pulse about 10 minutes.

We learn as children to choose our playmates wisely. Unbeknownst to Smolens that day, he couldn’t have made a more prudent choice.

Brian Ojanpa is a Free Press staff writer. Call him at 344-6316 or e-mail

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