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SUU students in right place at right time to save professor's life

Published: Tuesday, Sept. 10 2013 7:05 p.m. MDT

Joe Baker, a professor at Southern Utah University, dropped to the floor after having a heart attack on Aug. 27, 2013. Baker said he is grateful that three students Ryan Fowles, Jared Wenn and Jake Probert came to his aid.

Stace Hall, Deseret News

CEDAR CITY — It started as a normal second day of school for three students at Southern Utah University.

Jake Probert was studying, Jared Wenn was eating lunch at home with his wife, and Ryan Fowles was on his way to class.

SUU managerial economics professor Joe Baker, 63, had just finished his noon run on Aug. 27 when he had a heart attack.

“They saved my life,” Baker said of Probert, Wenn and Fowles. “There’s no doubt about it that they saved my life.”

Probert was sitting on the second floor of the J.L. Sorenson Physical Education Building when he heard what he thought was a body fall to the ground and a university employee yell for someone to call 911.

He said he looked over the balcony and saw Baker lying motionless on the ground.

“I knew that I needed to get to him as soon as possible,” Probert said.

After checking for vital signs Baker didn't have, Probert began CPR.

“You never expect to give CPR,” he said. “I knew I didn’t have time to be fearful, and I knew I didn’t have time to worry about myself. So I just ran, and in my mind was thinking, ‘OK, hopefully somebody else can be there to help me.’”

That help came when Fowles walked around the corner and saw Probert checking Baker’s pulse.

“I just assumed it was a CPR drill that he was getting in class," Fowles said. “I got a little closer and realized Joe’s coloring wasn’t normal, and then Jacob said (Baker) didn’t have a pulse. That’s kind of when I was like, ‘Oh, this is the real thing here.’”

The students worked together to continue CPR.

Fowles said the last time he had a CPR class was when he was 11. However, his brother-in-law had recently taken a class and updated him on the procedure just a few days prior to the incident — something Fowles said was more than a coincidence.

“I just kind of put things together and went with it,” Fowles said. “It was something (that) had to be done.”

Wenn said he was eating lunch with his wife when he suddenly got the feeling he might be needed.

"I work on the ambulance, and so I just randomly got a feeling to turn on my pager for the ambulance and happened to hear what had happened over the radio," he said. "I knew I was living really close, so I just ran over as fast as I could with my personal EMT kit."

Wenn said he doesn’t remember much of what happened other than people running around and hearing Baker’s chest pop as he did compressions.

“After training and lots of experience with it, I just knew what to do and stayed with that,” he said.

Baker, who has taught economics at the university for 17 years, said he doesn’t remember anything about the incident or the first two days of classes.

“I woke up in the hospital with my family around me, so it’s a complete blank slate,” he said.

Baker said he underwent a quintuple bypass surgery and was in the hospital for a week.

“It was quite a surprise for me and everybody that this happened to me,” said Baker, who runs about 800 miles a year.

“There’s a lot of things that fell into place, but I was just extremely fortunate that these three young men were there and that they had the knowledge to keep me alive until the EMT came," he said. "I literally owe them my life.”

The students said it was obviously a right-place, right-time moment.

“I was just a level above him in the building,” Probert said. “I was able to respond within a matter of a minute, or 30 seconds.”

He said Fowles showed up before he finished the first cycle of CPR, and Wenn showed up with the defibrillator within about three minutes. Within about eight minutes, the EMT arrived.

“It just seemed like everyone was in it to win it, I guess you could say,” Probert said.

Baker, who hopes to be back teaching in four weeks, said the experience was a humbling one. He said his family has adopted the students as part of their own, and he plans to have lifelong relationships with them.

“I don’t know how you can ever repay a debt like that or how you can thank them enough,” he said.

Email: eeagar@deseretnews.com

Twitter: EmileeEagar

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