Saturday morning was hot and muggy, and Hart Park was full of people dancing, performing feats of strength and wheezing into bagpipes at the Scottish Fest Highland Games – many of them wearing wool clothing. It seems that something was almost bound to happen.
Jim Fork was doing his normal duty on an abnormal day as one of three city custodians who maintain the park from dawn until after dark seven days a week.
On Saturdays, "I'm the only person on the grounds from 8 until 4," Fork said. "We're involved with all facets of the park, many that go beyond the janitorial. And I guess I encountered one of those last Saturday."
Fork was inside the Muellner Building, walking up the hallway toward the custodians' office to get a drink, when he ran into Dave Berger, one of the Games coordinators.
"Dave just kind of remarked that someone in the event was having a heart attack," Fork said. "I said, 'What, somebody's having a heart attack in my park?'"
Fork reversed course and headed for the lobby, where he ran into another event organizer who was calling out for assistance and, in particular, for an emergency defibrillator if there was one on the premises.
Turns out there was, about 20 feet away but inside the locked doors of the Hart Park Senior Center. And the man had bumped into the only person who had a key.
"In my mind this is getting a little blown out of proportion," Fork said of his role, "because all I did was hand him the defibrillator. I handed it to him and he ran, and I ran, just to see if there was anything more I could do. I came into this scene of a mass of people."
A 49-year-old bagpiper from Northern Illinois lay on the ground, already receiving CPR, but his heart had stopped and he was not responding.
"He was ash-white," Fork said. "A larger man. They shocked him twice, and the second time his heart started. I saw some color come back, and then the paramedics arrived, they got him on the back board and took him to the hospital.
"I understand he was discharged Sunday."
Fork was only one of a number of people whose actions helped save a life, and that line stretches beyond the park.
"There were police on the grounds, and they made the call to the medical unit," Fork said. "There was the EMT (emergency medical technician) with the Games – 'Flash' Gordon – and another guy who must also have been an EMT who was just riding through the park with his children, and he pitched in, too.
"I just kind of stood there. I was part of a chain of events. But I could have been out in the park. I had been out in the park. The morning was passing like lightning, it was pandemonium.
"I guess I was in the right place at the right time."
Later today: How planning also played into life-saving incident.