It was a gloomy day at the golf course. Upper 40s and windy.
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“It kind of looked like it might rain,” said Chris Edmondson, assistant manager of the golf course at Lake of the Woods in Mahomet.
James Brandenburg the Survivor
Only nine players had come through as of 1:45 p.m. April 4. That’s about the time the phone rang.
Dave Sebestik, assistant golf professional, took the call.
“What?” Edmondson heard Sebestik say. Sebestik hung up and looked at Edmondson.
“Somebody’s down on 17. They called 911 and just wanted to let us know,” Sebestik said.
But the two employees sprang into action.
“I said, ‘Well, we got to get out there,’ and I grabbed the AED, not knowing what was going on. I didn’t know if somebody just fell or what,” Edmondson said. He still doesn’t know why he grabbed it, but the automated external defibrillator was his first thought, just in case it was needed.
Sebestik met Edmondson outside the pro shop with a golf cart. When they reached hole 17, Edmondson saw frequent golfer of Lake of the Woods, James “Jim” Brandenburg, 64, of Mahomet, lying on the ground not breathing. No pulse.
Brandenburg’s playing partners, Mike Wattles and Gary Peterson, both of Mahomet, were administering CPR.
“I told them to step away, because we could hook up the AED,” Edmondson said. “When you put it on, it walks you through. It’s kind of foolproof.”
Edmondson and other nonseasonal employees of the Champaign County Forest Preserve District are trained to operate AEDs as well as practice full first aid.
“I opened it up and put the pads on,” Edmondson continued. “It checked all the vitals, and it said, ‘Administer shock.’
“I told everybody to just kind of stand back and pushed the button. (Jim) gave a little jump and a breath, and I felt he had a little pulse going.”
The AED checked Brandenburg’s vitals again, and it said, “No shock required,” which meant his heart was going.
“Right then, the Cornbelt and EMTs showed up, and they took over CPR. The ambulance showed up, and they got him to the hospital,” Edmonson said.
“During the whole time, I really wasn’t thinking at all, I was just doing what needed to be done as far as I thought, and until the ambulance pulled away, that was when it hit me,” he said. “It kind of was all reaction.”
And it seems it was that way for Brandenburg’s playing partners, Wattles and Peterson, too.
Peterson said the group had just teed off and was half way to the green on 17 — a long par 3 — when he heard a thud behind him. When he turned around, Brandenburg was on the ground.
“It was scary as heck,” he said, noting Brandenburg turned a little blue.
The two friends immediately acted, with Wattles calling 911 and Peterson rolling him on his back to start CPR. Peterson said he had no recent training in CPR, but did what he could.
Wattles had taken a voluntary training program in CPR before, but said 911 dispatchers walked them through what to do to resuscitate Brandenburg.
Wattles said Edmondson then showed up with the defibrillator.
“We were quite frightened, of course,” Wattles said. “I’ve been around death before, but they were in the hospital. Just to have somebody on the ground right there in front of you opens your eyes to how quickly you can be gone without necessarily any symptoms. You need to make your peace with God everyday. I have a strong faith. I certainly prayed for Jim and his family.”
Peterson called his wife, Sharon, who picked up Brandenburg’s wife, Patricia, who met the group at the ambulance.
Patricia rode in the front seat of the Arrow Ambulance and directed them to Provena.
All the way to the hospital, she prayed.
“I can’t imagine my life without him,” she said, noting the two met when they were 14 years old in Watseka. They have been married 45 years.
When they got to the hospital, emergency room doctors took him to heart surgery, where they found he had two block arteries and a third almost entirely blocked. He had a triple bypass as a result.
Patricia called both her sons, who both came as fast as they could. Brad Brandenburg lives in Tampa, Fla., and James Brandenburg, who is in the Air Force, lives in Carlisle, Pa.
“That was the longest day of my life,” Patricia said, noting Gary and Sharon Peterson stayed at the hospital with her until 2 a.m.
Brandenburg woke up the next evening in intensive care.
He said he could hear a nurse named Ted urging him to wake up and telling him he had a heart attack.
Brandenburg’s first reaction was, “You got to be kidding me.”
He said he didn’t recall feeling any pain. He didn’t feel jaw pain or leg pain or arm pain.
“I was playing golf,” he said. “I just hit the ball and the other guy hit his ball, and then we started walking toward the 17th green. And that was it.”
But Brandenburg said he doesn’t remember much of the day — only getting dressed that morning and the first hole.
He did not sustain other injuries or brain damage — even though he jokingly said that was in question before anyway.
“It was unbelievable,” he said. “But everybody was involved.”
Right after the event, the Champaign County Forest Preserve District added two more defibrillators.
They now are near the tower at Lake of the Woods, the golf course, Museum of the Grand Prairie, the maintenance shop at Lake of the Woods, and Middlefork and Homer forest preserves.
“All of these people contributed to me being alive today,” Brandenburg said. “But (Edmondson) was No. 1 as far as starting this heart, because it had stopped.”
He hopes others might hear his story and encourage them to purchase defibrillators for their establishments.
“I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for that,” he said.