By David Abel | Globe Staff | 1/25/2001
ASHLAND -- Everyone thought she was dead.
Local and state police, emergency medical technicians, and the building's property manager all saw the slender 39-year-old woman slumped lifelessly in the water-filled bathtub of her one-bedroom apartment and thought she was dead.
They even called the state medical examiner's office, described the woman's condition, and the official told them to send her to the funeral home.
Everyone on the scene apparently believed it was just another suicide case, and the medical examiner planned to assess the body later.
So they lifted the woman out of the tub, slipped her limp form into a body bag, and sent her to the nearby John Matarese Funeral Home on Main Street.
It was a Saturday morning John Matarese will never forget.
On his way out of the funeral home to fetch lunch for his father, the funeral director heard something startling as he walked past the holding area. He heard a faint sound. He realized it was someone breathing.
"It scared me half to death," Matarese said. "The girl was alive. I don't know what I was thinking at that moment, to tell you the truth."
But Matarese acted. He quickly unzipped the body bag and held the woman's mouth open to keep her air passages clear.
By the time the second set of emergency technicians arrived, the woman was breathing.
"All I can really say is it's a miracle," said Dexter Blois, Ashland's town manager. "She was in the right place at the right time. She appeared lifeless and there was more than one person who made the judgment that she was not alive. I don't think we have anything to be sorry about. We're just lucky."
Neither Blois nor Matarese would reveal the woman's name, but they said she is apparently unmarried. The woman was taken to MetroWest Medical Center in Framingham, where her father and brother arrived shortly afterward, Blois said.
Yesterday, the woman was transferred to another medical facility, hospital officials said.
Eleanor Doherty, the woman's neighbor, said she introduced herself only as Christina, and has lived in the subsidized housing complex since December 1999.
Police first responded at about 2 a.m. to complaints from neighbors of loud noises in her apartment in the brick-faced Chestnut apartment complex on 8 Joanne Drive. Blois said, however, that police could not enter the woman's apartment until about 8:30 a.m. Saturday, when the property manager let them in.
Once they found the body, police called the fire department. The woman was taken to the funeral home about 11:30 a.m., and Materese heard her breathing about 20 minutes later.
Anson Kaye, a spokesman for the Middlesex district attorney's office, said State Police believe the woman attempted to commit suicide. Local police are still investigating.
"Miracles never cease to happen, and this is one of them," Blois said. "My understanding is she's up, alive, and taking nourishment. It's just amazing."
David Abel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @davabel.
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