How do you thank someone for saving your life?

Greg Morin starts with lunch.

“I call them ‘Greg’s Angels,’ ” said Morin, 56, as he settled in for a group photo Tuesday amid the noon rush at Espo’s Trattoria in Portland. “You don’t have to write about me — write about them!”

Fair enough. Meet the angels: Eileen Delaney, Helen Peake-Godin and Jeanette Andonian.

Five years ago today, Delaney, a registered nurse who directs the Maternity and Breast Health Center at Mid-Coast Hospital in Brunswick, was settling in for a late-afternoon nursing class at the University of Southern Maine in Portland.

Peake-Godin, an associate professor at USM’s School of Nursing, was teaching the class.

Andonian, an associate professor of social work at USM, was next door preparing for end-of-year presentations by her students — one of whom was Morin.

A quick word about Morin back in those days: A single dad whose daughter was about to graduate from Old Orchard Beach High School, he worked full-time as a licensed clinical social worker, had spent the last four years plowing his way through graduate school part-time and, on this day, was dashing from his field assignment at Maine Medical Center over to USM to put the finishing touch on his master’s degree in social work.

In short, as he hoofed it from the garage up three flights of stairs to the classroom, Morin was one stressed-out middle-aged guy.

Hence the “thump” Andonian heard just outside her classroom door.

“I was sitting inside talking with a few students who had already arrived. And I remember thinking, ‘That’s kind of an odd sound,’ ” Andonian recalled. “And so I went to look — and there he was, splayed out on the floor.”

A noticeably groggy Morin insisted he’d just had a dizzy spell and was still ready to present his project. Andonian, meanwhile, was hollering for someone to call 911.

“I thought I’d just passed out,” Morin said. “I really didn’t think there was anything else going on.”

Enter Delaney, who was studying for her master’s in nursing, and Peake-Godin, also a veteran nurse, both summoned by a frantic student.

“Eileen and I came out and she and I looked at each other,” said Peake-Godin. “And we knew right then he was going to code.”

Good call. Within seconds, Morin lapsed back into unconsciousness.

“No pulse. No respiration,” Delaney said. “He’d ‘stepped out’ for a minute.”

Some people freeze in such situations. Others panic. Nurses, on the other hand, get to work: Peake-Godin started the chest compressions while Delaney handled the artificial respiration.

Andonian dispatched a student to meet the paramedics and made a beeline for the social work department files to get whatever background medical information she could on Morin — this, it turned out, was his first hint of heart trouble.

As students from the two classes looked on with a mixture of horror and awe, one minute turned to two … and then three … and then four …

“I thought to myself at one point, ‘Oh, my God. He’s not going to make it. We’re going to lose him,’ ” said Delaney. “But you don’t stop until you’re either exhausted or you’re relieved.”

Or until you suddenly feel a weak pulse.

Morin will never forget the moment he opened his eyes to see Delaney just inches from his face.

His first words?

“I told her, ‘I need more resuscitation,’ ” he said with a chuckle.

Medcu arrived and whisked Morin to Maine Medical Center, where doctors discovered and repaired a 90-percent blockage in one of his arteries. Andonian dismissed her students — although few wanted to leave — and headed for the emergency room.

And the nurses?

They went on with their class.

“I had between 40 and 45 students presenting that day,” explained Peake-Godin. “But when I left that class, I couldn’t remember anything one of them had said.”

“So everybody got A’s,” added Delaney.

Trauma does different things to different people — especially once the ambulance has rolled and there’s nothing left but leftover adrenaline and lingering uncertainty.

Delaney took a few moments before re-entering her class, went outside and, realizing that her husband was in a meeting, called one of her sons. “I didn’t even tell him what had happened,” she said. “I just wanted to connect with a familiar voice.”

Andonian, ever the social worker, kept her still-anxious students posted from the hospital on how their classmate was doing.

Peake-Godin, whose husband died suddenly at the gym 12 years ago, went home after class and told her 17-year-old daughter what had happened.

“She looked at me and said, ‘Mom, just think how grateful we would be if someone had done that for him,’ ” Peake-Godin said, wiping a tear from her eye. “I’ll never forget that.”

That evening, Peake-Godin got an email from one of her nursing students.

“I just want to tell you that seeing you save somebody’s life gave me the confidence that I’ll be able to do that when I’m a nurse,” the student wrote.

Morin was up and out of the hospital in a few days. The next week, as both classes gathered one last time, he showed up with his daughter to thank his rescuers.

Delaney, seeing him upright for the first time, “had no clue he was as tall as he was.” More importantly, she said, “I looked into his eyes and felt this spiritual connection.”

“Me too,” said Morin quietly.

Truth be told, the months that followed weren’t easy for Morin. As miraculous as a near-death experience might be, it can leave you with the nagging sense that, from here on in, you’re on borrowed time.

But then he started thinking about all the patients he’d helped over the past five years at Maine Medical Center, where he now works full-time. And about his daughter, who graduated from high school and is now a student at USM.

And about his three angels.

“I went on with my life and they went on with their lives,” said Morin. “Then at some point I realized we have to get together — and we have to do it on an annual basis.”

So here they were, for the second time in as many years, bouncing their crisis off a gauntlet of what ifs. What if Morin had collapsed unnoticed in the stairway? What if there hadn’t been a nursing class next door? What if …?

Morin took a sip from his Pepsi and reached for the bread basket.

“It wasn’t my time,” said Morin. “I think it was just God’s plan.”

So is lunch with the angels.

Columnist Bill Nemitz can be contacted at 791-6323 or at: [email protected]