Robert Brody Jr.'s quick response saved Bill Baumbach's life following widowmaker heart attack

A best friend's quick actions spanning eight minutes made a world of difference for a Frankford man who almost died from a widowmaker heart attack.

Bill Baumbach set out on a duck scouting trip on Salt River with his grandson, Dalton Bailey; his best friend, Robert Brody Jr.; and Brody's son, Jase Brody, on Sept. 2, 2017. The familiar trip took a terrifying turn when Brody noticed Baumbach was taking longer than usual to back the truck up on the boat ramp. Baumbach said he initially felt overworked, but Brody could tell something was wrong as he helped his friend to a spot under a shade tree with a drink of water. Brody had just completed CPR training two weeks prior through his job at True Manufacturing — his knowledge and quick actions would soon mean the difference between life and death.

“I work for the Department of Corrections, and I go through training evert year,” Baumbach said. “Doing two minutes of it, you're tired. I could imagine doing eight minutes of it, he was probably worn out. But he didn't stop until [paramedics] got there. If he didn't do it, I'd have been dead for sure,” he said.

Baumbach said the widowmaker valve in his heart was almost completely blocked. But Brody knew exactly what to do when he noticed that things weren't right with his friend. He secured the boat to the trailer and began driving the truck. Baumbach felt confused, experienced pain in his arm and was sweating, even though the truck's air conditioning was on.

At first, Baumbach decided against making the turn to Hannibal Regional as they headed toward Center. A short time later, Brody knew he needed to call 911 and meet emergency personnel just off Highway 154 to save his friend's life.

After they stopped, EMTs had not yet been dispatched to their location. As he talked with the emergency dispatcher, Brody heard “one final gasp” from Baumbach, and he saw his eyes roll back into his head.

“I'll never forget that sound,” he said.

Brody told the boys to get under a shade tree, and he laid the truck seat back. Baumbach had an extremely faint pulse. Brody braced his back against the ceiling of the truck, gaining more leverage to deliver cycles of compressions. After each cycle, Baumbach would gasp for air momentarily before returning to his previous state. When EMTs arrived and Brody helped them move Baumbach out of the truck, he had flat-lined.

EMTs delivered three shocks from an automated external defibrillator “which brought him back,” Brody said. He continued to do perform CPR compressions, and he looked up at the EMTs.

“Is there any way somebody can relieve me,” he said. “By now, I'm just bawling, crying, and my emotions are going crazy.”

Brody said a helicopter landed on the highway to take Baumbach to Columbia. He reached out to Baumbach's wife, Lori, to let her know what happened.

Baumbach's sister, Vicky Guinn, remembered that the trip from St. Peters to check on her brother was “the longest trip to Columbia I had in my life.” After she received a phone call that Baumbach had a heart attack, she didn't know if he was still alive.

“I couldn't imagine him not being here,” she said, stressing how critical Brody's CPR compressions were for her brother's survival.

“He would not be alive if [Brody] did not do that, period,” she said. “We can't thank him enough.”

After successful surgery in Columbia, Baumbach wore life vests, underwent cardiovascular rehabilitation and began working out regularly at the YMCA. He's lost about 40 pounds so far, and he's back to work everyday. He echoed his sister's feelings about the lifesaving difference Brody made, saying that Brody is “always a take-charge kind of guy.”

Brody said he knew that the CPR compressions were the only way that Baumbach could breathe during the eight-minute span before EMTs arrived.

“I wasn't going to stop, but my arms — I can still feel them now, how 'jello' they were. I was like a limp noodle when they got done,” he said.

And Brody said that Baumbach recovered quickly. One month later, Baumbach joined family and friends on a hunting trip in Saskatchewan, Canada.

“You better not be finding anybody else to go to Canada, because I'm going,” Baumbach told Brody in the hospital.

Brody and Baumbach both recommended that people keep up on lifesaving CPR training each year.

“I'm glad that I do, because if I had that situation happen to me, I would jump in there and help them out, too,” Baumbach said. “A lot of times you don't get second chances.”

Baumbach said “everything worked out” as his best friend saved his life, emphasizing how happy he felt to be able to do the things he loved, like being involved in the girls' softball team he started 13 years ago. He's stepped back from administrative tasks, but he's still active with the team, coaching a team that includes his granddaughter, Kennedi Gibbons.

Brody said that his best friend's recovery defied tall odds, and he stressed that “God was looking down” that day.

“Ultimately, the doctor said only three percent of the people — even when they're in the hospital — make it,” he said. “He's lucky to be alive, that's for sure.”

Reach reporter Trevor McDonald at trevor.mcdonald@courierpost.com