What began as a short getaway up north soon turned into an emotional, life-changing interaction between Tempe resident Steve Baily and Sedona local John Birkett.
The two met while Baily was on vacation late October at the Sedona Golf Resort. At the time, Birkett was close to death due to cardiac arrest.
The McClintock High School teacher was with his girlfriend, Cindy Atchley when they saw Birkett — a former Northern Arizona University Basketball coach — collapse. They were one of the last few people on the golf course at the time.
“I saw him standing very erratically and just collapsed, Baily said. “I asked what was wrong...I immediately wanted to check on him, and he took last couple breaths on the grass.”
Atchley called 911 as Baily started to perform CPR, which he admitted, he hadn’t had much experience with.
“I started to think, did this guy just die? He was gone,” Baily said. Adrenaline took over at that point, I was unusually calm, I did what I was supposed to do. I started doing chest compressions, and there was nothing. All of the sudden he kicked up his legs and he was back again — his blood was pumping like crazy.”
Emergency responders arrived shortly after the 911 call. When they asked Baily information on Birkett, he didn’t have much to offer when suddenly, Birkett sprouted up.
“He just piped up and said, ‘they call me coach’,” Bailey said. “It was the first audible things he said.”
This was a comment Birkett admits he does not remember. Bailey would later call Birkett ‘coach’ when the two spoke again on the phone.
Birkett was quickly helicoptered over to Flagstaff Medical Center. When he woke up in the hospital, Baily had already returned home to Tempe. Birckett immediately wanted to know who was responsible for saving his life and contacted Bailey as soon as he was released from the hospital.
“Talking on the phone was a very emotional experience,” Birkett said. “There’s a 100 percent chance that they saved my life, if [Baily] had not done CPR I would have died.”
The two talked on the phone for over an hour. Bailey concurred that the call was an emotional one.
“I met him when he was dead and spoke with him when he was alive,” Baily said. “It was a life-changing moment.”
Birkett would later drive down to the Phoenix-metro area to meet Baily and Atchley in person.
“He’s really healthy looking and so grateful,” Atchley said. “It was amazing to see him different than how he was at the golf course.”
Now, Birkett's only gripe is that Bailey hurt his ribs during CPR; but it’s a complaint in jest and said he is beyond grateful.
“We have good in the world with so much bad,” Birkett said. “Without them, I’m dead.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story mispelled John Birkett's and Steve Baily's names. This version of the story has been updated with the correction information.
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