ST. CLOUD, Minn. — One of the last vivid memories that Rich Thies has from Aug. 13 is dialing 911 on his cellphone to report his own heart attack.
The 48-year-old from Otsego was dying outside a St. Cloud business. He had a complete blockage of one of the three main arteries in his chest and a 95 percent blockage of another.
Without immediate care, that combination is typically fatal, and swiftly so.
The intervention that saved Thies' life was quicker, came initially by chance and from a series of strangers, some who do that for a living and others who just happened to be in the right place at the right time. Doctors rarely see a patient survive the "widowmaker" heart attack that Thies had without immediate medical care.
"I was given a second chance for a reason. I'm not going to blow it. It's a whole new world," he told the St. Cloud Times, reflecting on what happened that day and since.
He has made it a mission to meet everyone who helped him. He has shared hugs and vows to take each one to dinner as a small sign of his thanks.
He also has attended the funeral of the first person who showed up to help that day.
"That's what makes this whole story so extremely unusual," he said, his voice heavy with emotion. "A guy saves your life and then two months later, his own life is taken."
A hydraulic repairman for Pirtek, Thies was at Landwehr Construction in south St. Cloud that muggy August day for a service call. Late in the afternoon, he got into his company van to head home.
The air was heavy, the region in the midst of a stretch of mid-80s to mid-90s heat. As he was leaving the parking lot, he began to feel hot, a searing shot of pain running through his chest.
He pulled over on the driveway leading out of Landwehr, thinking a little cool air from his air conditioning would make him feel better.
"It didn't," he said. "It kept getting worse. It felt like someone was standing on my chest. A very intense pain. And I remember thinking that this isn't good."
He made a call on his cellphone.
"911, what's the address of your emergency?"
"Uh, I'm in, I'm in the Landwehr, Land- Landwehr's driveway," he struggled to say. "I think I'm having a heart attack."
Joanne Weeres has been a Stearns County dispatcher for 20 years, which means she has heard all kinds of emergency calls —from the strange to the tragic to the joyous.
She's helped deliver babies, coach CPR and counsel helpful strangers thrown into life-or-death scenarios. She does it with a veteran's calm.
The call from Thies was a challenge, though. He was alone in an area where he might not be seen and was calling in his own serious medical emergency.