Brian John, Jeff Crawford and Wally Landers didn’t know Kirk Pretty before this spring when they played together in a scramble tournament for members at the West Haven Golf and Country Club.
It is safe to say, the four men’s lives are permanently connected after Pretty had a heart attack on the course and nearly died right in front of them.
“I remember it was a hot day, the sun was out, it was generally just a nice day to play golf,” Pretty, 60, said.
The tournament, which took place May 8, was designed to bring together club members who may not have known each other or who at least had never played together. John, 55, and Crawford, 56, are friends, but Landers, 77, didn’t know either of them prior to that day.
The final member of their foursome had dropped out, so the trio were going to play a man short when, back at the clubhouse, it turned out a scheduling mistake had left Pretty without a group to play with.
Pretty was sent out to join the three men on the ninth tee.
John, a small business owner, immediately noticed something seemed off as the man approaching them was seemingly struggling and clutching his chest. “He was moving kind of odd, his colour didn’t look good at all.”
Stopping to catch his breath three times in his short walk, Pretty said he remembers feeling embarrassed that he was slowing down the rest of the guys.
John recalls saying to Landers, somewhat jokingly, that Kirk looked like he might need a doctor. That was when Landers told John he actually was a retired doctor. Landers had retired in 1998.
“I didn’t know Wally was a retired physician. That’s when he told me, when I said Kirk didn’t look good,” John said. “He joked, ‘Well I hope he doesn’t need me.’ Then, 10 minutes later, he did.”
As the tournament was a best-ball format, the four men ended up using Pretty’s tee shot, which he recalls as one of his better shots, right down the middle of the fairway.
The four men played one more shot before their day changed dramatically.
Crawford recalls seeing Pretty collapse and he immediately rushed over to him with Landers right behind. With Pretty not breathing and his skin turning blue, John called 911.
“I was talking to the operator; she asked me to describe what was going on. I said to her, I couldn’t believe I was watching someone die,” John said. “She was asking me the address, it was bizarre, I couldn’t think of it. I think we were all thinking the worst.”
Landers said he checked for Pretty’s pulse, but couldn’t find one. So, he knew something had to be done immediately or John’s fears would come true right on the course.
His own experiences told him he needed a strong man to do chest compressions, which he asked Crawford to do. With that seemingly having no effect, Landers began mouth-to-mouth.
Landers estimates he and Crawford worked on Pretty for “about 5-7 minutes” before their patient began to regain consciousness. He was only awake and struggling to talk for “a few minutes” before the ambulance arrived.
As paramedics rushed Pretty to hospital, the three men were left to wonder what to do next. They agreed to keep playing.
However, Crawford said he remembers being “a little wobbly” for the next several holes. Turns out, the three men had a pretty successful tournament, Crawford came away with a couple prizes and John even won a raffle prize.
Still, their thoughts were of Pretty.
In fact, Landers called Pretty that night and his playing partner’s first words were about whether or not club officials had cancelled the tournament.
Doctors at University Hospital performed open-heart surgery to fix a faulty aortic valve. The aortic valve, simply put, is what pumps blood out of the heart and into the body.
The defective valve, in turns out, had probably been there his whole life and has been replaced with an artificial one.
Pretty spent 12 days in hospital, but returned to West Haven on Thursday (July 3) to meet with his three new friends.
He admits to feeling rather nervous about coming back to the club he has been a member with, off and on, for 18 years. However, he came back because he needed to speak face-to-face with the men who saved his life.
“They went out of their way to help me and I think people should know about that,” Pretty said. “From the bottom of my heart, all I can say is thank you. It shows people do care. There is a lot of stuff going on in this world today that’s a joke; this was no joke, and they were there for me.”
Each man said they had no thoughts other than to help Pretty. Landers added there is always concern “that you are doing the right thing,” but that it was simple human nature to help someone in need.
Pretty said he hopes to get medical clearance to return to the course this August.