MURRAY — Trucker John Lindsey boasts 48 years in the industry — and had never gotten in an accident nor had he spent much time in Utah beyond driving through.
On May 2, both things changed for the 72-year-old Illinois resident after he suffered a "massive heart attack," as doctors would later describe, and crashed his semitractor-trailer into the median on I-15 in South Salt Lake at about 2700 South.
Despite the dire circumstances, everything seemed to fall into place thanks to fast-thinking strangers.
Justin Litizia, a sports trainer at the Orthopedic Specialty Hospital who's trained in first aid, happened to be about five cars behind Lindsey when the crash occurred and when he stopped to help, realized Lindsey wasn't breathing and began CPR.
Two married Provo police officers, Robyn and Ken Newell, happened to be near the scene after taking a wrong turn on their way home from the Utah Law Enforcement Memorial that honored fallen Utah police officers. They also helped perform CPR on Lindsey.
And despite crashing on a busy highway while completely unconscious, he didn't hit any other cars.
Monday brought an emotional reunion between Lindsey and the strangers who saved his life, filled with hugs and a few tears at Intermountain Medical Center in Murray, where he was treated. The event coincided with National EMS Appreciation Week.
"It's wonderful, they really know what they're doing," Lindsey said. "They brought me back to life."
Lindsey said he doesn't remember the crash at all and his first memory is waking up in the hospital with his fiancee, Grett Williams, by his side. He was disoriented and thought he was home. Both profusely thanked and expressed deep appreciation for everyone involved in saving his life.
Once he came to grips with what had happened to him, the first thing he asked was if he had hurt anyone else in the crash, which much to his relief, he hadn't. He and Williams said the entire situation was a miracle.
While it's dangerous the incident happened on a busy freeway, it's also lucky, Williams said because he was at the "right place at the right time," and near a hospital that could help him.
As a truck driver he could've been in the middle of nowhere, she pointed out, and said she feels thankful for the people there to help him.
"It all kind of fell together beautifully," Litizia said. "It feels good to be able to help someone."
Litizia had already reunited with Lindsey a couple weeks ago after Lindsey's family found Litizia on Facebook and arranged the meeting. To see Lindsey sitting up in his hospital bed at that time, awake and healthy was "fantastic," Litizia said.
Williams was on vacation in Palm Springs, California, with her sister when she got the shocking call about Lindsey's heart attack and crash. She described the call as "devastating," and she recalled thinking "not again, I've already been through this." Williams' husband died about five years ago and she said it was her biggest fear to go through that again.
Lindsey underwent a quintuple bypass after his heart attack and was released from the hospital May 13. He said he and Williams will return home Wednesday.
Luckily in Lindsey's case, the people around him knew how to help and what to do, however that might not always be the case, Dr. Edward Miner, interventional cardiologist at the facility, noted Monday.
Miner advised the public that should they see someone in cardiac arrest, where the person is unconscious and unresponsive, they should immediately perform "good, hard chest compressions" to keep blood flowing to the brain and heart.
There's no doubt the chest compressions performed on Lindsey by the Newells and Litizia were hard, considering Lindsey ended up with broken ribs — something Robyn Newell apologized for Monday.
Lindsey laughed it off and told her it was worth it.2 comments on this story
"Come on buddy, this isn't how you're going to go," Robyn Newell recalled telling Lindsey while administering CPR during the 5-10 minutes before EMS arrived.
"I'm so sorry I'm breaking your ribs, I'm so sorry, I hope you make it," she recalled thinking to herself during those intense moments.
She said she was "overjoyed" to see Lindsey healthy and walking around.
"Honestly we just prayed on the way home and just said, 'We hope he makes it so his family can be here with him,'" she said.