Originally Published: The Reading Eagle
ich Scarcella, Sports Reporter
Isaac Wenrich left his home in Glendale, Ariz., to make the 40-minute drive to his private lesson in Chandler, on the other side of Phoenix.
While sitting in his driveway, Wenrich felt something strange. Once a three-sport athlete at Wilson, he was preparing to play another season of independent baseball and was in tip-top shape, or so he thought.
"I had just a little bit of chest pain and it went down into my left arm," Wenrich said, recalling the events of March 29. "I just thought it was from lifting, that I might have pulled something or overworked it."
His girlfriend, Katy Huetter, thought it was heartburn from him eating hot sauce.
They were wrong.
Less than 15 minutes after arriving at his lesson, Wenrich, 26, collapsed and suffered a heart attack in front of his 13-year-old pupil, Nate Boyer.
"I was coming back from stretching and was reaching down for my glove," Boyer said. "He always sits on a bucket of balls and corrects me. I was going to say, 'Let's get started.' He just fell off the bucket face first. At first I thought he was messing around. That's Isaac. That's what he does.
"But he had this odd breathing. They were really fast, deep breaths. I called him five times. He wasn't responding to me, so I called 9-1-1. Once I noticed he wasn't breathing, then I had to perform compressions on him."
The 9-1-1 operator helped jog Boyer's memory about the CPR lessons he learned a few years earlier as a Boy Scout in Wisconsin. He pounded the chest of the 6-2, 230-pound Wenrich several times until paramedics arrived.
Boyer's calm, quick response at Desert Breeze Park kept Wenrich alive before the 10-minute ambulance ride to the hospital. After receiving a stent, Wenrich has recovered and has resumed his baseball career with the Florence (Ky.) Freedom.
"I was completely stunned," said Julie Boyer, Nate's mother. "It was crazy. ... It's amazing. As a mom, it's not a situation you teach your kids. It's overwhelming. It's a lot to process.
"We're super proud of him. He's an amazing kid. I think he would have done anything to save Isaac. That's his favorite person on the planet."
Wenrich and Boyer have known each other for about a year-and-a-half. Wenrich had moved to Arizona with his friend Leon Stimpson, the former Alvernia outfielder, with hopes of landing a deal with a Major League Baseball organization.
In his offseason, he began coaching with the Grinders youth baseball club. That's when he met Boyer, who was on the team he coached last year.
"The kids absolutely adore Isaac," Julie Boyer said. "He's this larger than life character who loves baseball just as much, if not more, than they do. He's great with them.
"He coached the team, left last summer and did his thing (playing for the Sonoma Stompers in California and the Freedom). We got back in contact with him in the winter to set up lessons. He's a great mentor, so for us it was a no-brainer."
Wenrich quickly made a connection with Boyer, who had moved with his family to Arizona in the middle of his seventh-grade year.
"He's a kid who I go out of my way to make sure I could squeeze in a lesson with him if he ever needs one," Wenrich said. "If we can't make it work at a certain place, I make sure we find another place.
"His personality resonated with me and made me realize this is a kid who has potential. He's smart. He wants to get better. He has that work ethic to be the best player he can be. That's how I was at his age, so I kind of gravitated toward him and took him under my wing."
Nate's mother said Wenrich did more than that, helping her son with a difficult transition from a small school in Kohler, Wis., to a large school in Chandler.
"Anytime I felt Nate was down or needed a pep talk, I would just text Isaac," Julie Boyer said. "Isaac would always respond, 'I got it.' Nate listens to him differently than he does me. He was instrumental in Nate's transition, for sure.
"Everybody says, 'Oh, Nate saved Isaac.' My message always is Isaac's been saving Nate for a year-and-a-half."
It was late in the afternoon on the day after Easter when Wenrich had a lesson scheduled with Boyer. He and Huetter had spent the holiday with her family. She didn't notice anything unusual about Wenrich.
"Everything was fine," she recalled. "He was at his lesson and I was at work. He texted me around 3:30 that he had gotten to his lesson. I got the call at 6 o'clock."
Boyer and his mom knew Wenrich was from Pennsylvania and that he had a girlfriend named Katy, but that was all. Boyer and his buddies thought to look on social media to find her after Wenrich had been stricken.
"I actually got an Instagram message from Nate," Huetter said. "He told me Isaac had a heart attack. I thought it was a joke. I said, 'If it's a joke, it's not funny.' He said, 'I'm being serious.' "
She called Wenrich's phone. A police detective answered and told her Wenrich was at Chandler Regional Medical Center and that she needed to get there as soon as possible.
Huetter took a 30-minute Uber ride that seemed to last an eternity. She was shaking and sobbing uncontrollably. A minister met her when she arrived at the hospital, so she immediately thought the worst.
"Isaac's the healthiest guy I know," Huetter said. "I don't know how it happened."
Doctors determined that plaque had broken off and caused a 100 percent blockage in the heart's main artery, also known as the Widow Maker.
"Only about 5 percent survive those," Wenrich said, "so I was very fortunate."
Doctors inserted a stent through a small incision in his wrist and put him in an induced coma for a few days. Boyer visited him three days later.
"He was funny," Boyer said. "He was playing. He was like normal Isaac."
Their bond has become even stronger after the events in March.
"He's meant the world to me," Boyer said. "He's like my role model. I look up to him. He's up there with the best. I sort of see him as a second dad."
Wenrich sees Boyer as more than the person who saved his life.
"I absolutely would not be here if he hadn't acted the way he did," he said. "I was always going to keep tabs on him. If he needs anything, I hope he knows that I'll be the first one there. I want to make sure he knows that he has somebody other than his parents to talk to."
Wenrich, a catcher, resumed his career late last month and is batting a robust .387 with two home runs and five RBIs in 10 games for Florence. A couple of thousand miles away, his biggest fan checks his boxscores every morning.
Wenrich plans to keep playing baseball until someone tells him he can't. But he said he's a different person since his heart attack.
"The sky is bluer and brighter, and the grass is greener," he said. "I wake up with more of a sense of gratitude to be here. It makes you not sweat the small stuff as much. You just have to go about your day and realize: 'Hey, I woke up today. I'm fortunate to still be on this earth.' "
With big help from his little friend.