‘I didn’t have a heartbeat for 11 minutes,’ Utah man thankful for miracles that saved his life

Jun 13, 2024, 1:04 PM | Updated: 5:04 pm

PROVO — Jack Walker had been training for a marathon since January.

“This past January. I started training and really made it my goal,” Jack Walker said.

So on June 1, he went into the Utah Valley Marathon well-prepared for what was to come. Or so he thought.

“Nothing out of the ordinary and got on the bus excitement builds and then gun went off at 6 a.m.,” Jack Walker said. “I started off, I mean, cooking. I was doing great. I was going fast. It was about the halfway point when I started getting really tired.”

Jack said people have asked him since then if he noticed when he started to feel differently or hurt, but Jack said it was hard to tell since it was his first marathon and marathons can generally be painful experiences.

“I was about a mile out, finally could see the finish line and I was just picking up the pace…. I basically sprint into the finish line. As soon as I crossed the finish line, last thing I remember was just feeling really tired, really nauseous,” Jack Walker said. “I looked to my left, I saw a trash can, and I was like, you know what, I’m gonna throw up. ”

That’s where his memories of the events end.

“I took one step to the trash can, and it just went dark,” he said.

Jack collapsed just after crossing the finish line. He went into full cardiac arrest and doesn’t remember anything.

His wife, Lizzy Walker, remembers what happened next perfectly.

She watched him cross the finish line – sprinting into a strong finish. Then she realized she hadn’t heard from him in a while when her two friends came to get her.

“They said, ‘You need to come right now’ and I was like, ‘did he hurt himself?’ so they brought me to the medical tent,” Lizzy Walker said.  “I look over the barricade… and I was like those are my husband’s shorts, and so I was like, ‘that’s my husband.'”

She said the scene was difficult to see. A woman shouted, “Get her a chair, she’s shaking!”

“It’s different responding to someone else that you’ve never met than your husband that’s laying on the floor,” Lizzy Walker said.

She said she tried to remain calm and not get hysterical.

“He had blood on his face because he fell on his face – they were already on minute two of compressions when I got there and all I can hear is this lady yelling ‘no pulse keep going,'” she said.

It was then when Lizzy Walker realized how serious the situation was.

“I was just praying so hard, like don’t make me a widow at 23,” Lizzy Walker said.

The two have been married for about seven months.

“It was for about 11 minutes that they were doing the chest compressions,” Jack Walker said. “I didn’t have a heartbeat for 11 minutes.”

“They defibrillated him three or four times, I think, it’s all kind of a blur,” Lizzy Walker said.

A series of miracles

Many things came together to save Jack Walker’s life.

Immediately after he collapse a man from the crowd jumped into action.

“We still don’t know who he is, but he climbed over the barricade. He talked to my wife and said he was a heart surgeon,” Jack Walker said. “He was the one that initially started the chest compressions. He’s the one that found me.”

This unknown man and a nurse assigned to the race traded off doing chest compressions until paramedics arrived. Because of the blood on Jack Walker’s face, they were unable to give mouth-to-mouth, leaving Jack Walker without oxygen.

“They were not able to give me any breath. However, there was somehow, someway, enough oxygen to prevent brain damage of any sort for, for 11 minutes of no, no breathing,  no heartbeat, he said.

Jack Walker has since talked to the nurse that responded. She told him she was losing hope at around four minutes of compressions that Jack Walker would survive.

“But they kept going, just miracle after miracle,” Jack Walker said.

“I was just hoping for the brain, that’s literally all I cared because I was like well I fell in love with him as a person, if his body doesn’t work, we can handle that,” Lizzy Walker said.

Jack Walker woke up around midnight in the ICU.

Jack Walker was in the ICU for several days following a heart attack. (Walker Family)

“First thing I remember is I was a little jolted. I didn’t know where I was,” Jack Walker said. “They actually had me handcuffed to the bed because I was intubated. I had the tube down my throat and they didn’t want me pull it out.”

His wife said the first thing he said when they pulled out that tube was “I love you.”

Once Jack was stabilized in the hospital they ran several tests to figure out what had caused his heart attack. When initial ultrasounds didn’t show anything, the doctors were left scratching their heads at why an active young man would have a heart attack.

“I’m a 23 year old marathon runner, like an athlete, and I have never had even the slightest inkling of a heart condition, so it was surprising,” Jack Walker said.

Their plan was to insert a little defibrillator in his heart, then if a heart attack ever happened again, it’d shock him and notify medical personnel.

“But, I mean, I’d live with that for my entire life. I’d have to replace it every five to seven years,” he said. “And on top of that, they said the most exertion I’d be able to do is maybe a 5K. So it completely changed my life plans.”

Despite the plan, one doctor really pushed for a test where they insert a camera through the wrist and up to the heart to see what’s going on.

“The way that they explained to me is, if they didn’t see anything weird in the ultrasound, they usually don’t go to that test, but, for some reason, they pushed for it.”

A rare condition

That test revealed the problem with Jack Walker’s heart.

“After that test was done they wheeled me into my room and what they told my wife was that I was a unicorn. Literally 1% of 1%. So what they saw was in my right coronary artery, it was being pinched by my own heart,” Jack Walker said. “So essentially, I’d been living my entire life with about 66% of my blood flow.”

Doctors couldn’t believe Jack was able to train and run a marathon with the heart problem he had.

“I should not have made the 26 mile trek I mean it’s impossible is what they essentially told me,” he said.

Not only that, but Jack often trained by running alone, in the canyons or other remote places. If Jack had had a heart attack at any other point in his training, he probably would have had a different outcome.

“So the fact that I was able to finish and collapse in the location that I did which was essentially in front of the medical tent was nothing but a miracle,” Jack Walker said. ” I look back and I’m replaying different parts of my life on where it could have happened. Where the result would have been completely different. ”

The good news, is Jack Walker’s condition is curable. will get open heart surgery next month to fix his heart problem.

“I’m scheduled to get full open heart surgery, so they’ll crack me open and what they’ll do is they’ll take that right coronary artery, and it’s grown in the wrong location, so they’re going to cut it and move it into the right location,” Jack Walker said. “I’ll be back better than 100 percent because I’ll have a fully functional heart now.”

Jack Walker said it will take time to heal but he’s anxious to get back to his active lifestyle.

“I’m excited to see what I can do with a full heart,” Jack Walker said.

Most of all, Jack and his wife focused on the miracles.

“I think I just want to emphasize the amount of miracles that I’ve seen throughout this entire experience and the amount of gratitude that I have,” Jack Walker said.

Jack and Lizzy Walker are thanking the community, all the people that stepped in to help them in their time of need. They’ve been able to meet with a few people that were involved like the nurse at the marathon and Jack Walker said even the runner that crossed the finish line after him has reached out. They’re hoping to make contact with others involved as well.

Lizzy Walker (left) and Jack Walker (right) talk about the many miracles that came together to save Jack Walker’s life. (Walker Family)

“We’re able to just truly rely on one another and on God we can really make it through anything,” Jack Walker said. His wife then interjected, “if we make it through this, the rest of life will be good!”

Both said they’re more focused on what really matters.

“You know, dying really puts your priorities straight,” Jack Walker said.

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‘I didn’t have a heartbeat for 11 minutes,’ Utah man thankful for miracles that saved his life