How to Save a Life

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Jazz saxophonist Adrian Barnett graduated from Minnesota State Mankato.

Thomas Bonhiver is a fan of jazz saxophonist Adrian Barnett for life. Literally.

Bonhiver credits Barnett, a modern jazz bandleader who studied and taught music at Minnesota State University, Mankato, for acting fast and saving the 64-year-old man’s life on the afternoon of May 19.

Barnett had given a music clinic earlier in the day at a Golden Valley elementary school. While driving back to his brother’s house, he missed a few turns and wound up in a remote and quiet residential area. At a T-intersection, he passed what appeared to be a runner laying on his back, maybe resting, maybe … not. Barnett drove back to the scene.

“I was thinking if something is wrong, there’s no way I can leave this situation,” Barnett said. When he turned the man was shakily grasping at a pole; his attempt to stand “kind of looked like a baby deer,” Barnett recalled. As he approached, Barnett saw that the man was on his back, his head bleeding.

Bonhiver, a longtime runner, had been out for a  routine 3- to 4-mile run when he blacked out.

“He was really out of it, extremely confused,” Barnett says. “He had no idea what had happened. He asked me if I had seen what had happened.”

As the two talked, Bonhiver was able to recall his address and phone number. Barnett used his phone to call, but received no answer. He offered Bonhiver a ride home, which was nearby. Upon arriving, Bonhiver noted that his wife, a nurse, was home. Barnett watched him walk to the house and enter. Satisfied, he continued driving to his brother’s.

Inside, Susan Bonhiver knew something was wrong as soon as she saw her husband. “He was all pale, sweaty, nauseated and confused,” she says. She immediately called for an ambulance.

It turns out that Bonhiver’s left anterior descending artery, which supplies half of the heart’s blood, was 95 percent blocked—a condition, Susan notes, that’s commonly known as the “widow-maker.” Surgeons at Abbott Northwestern performed a coronary angiogram to remove the blockage, but Susan credits Barnett for saving her husband’s life.

“If it hadn’t been for Adrian, we wouldn’t have Tom,” she says. “He would not have gotten home.”

When Barnett reached his brother’s home after seeing Bonhiver into his house, he was told that their grandmother had passed away earlier. On the day of her funeral, Barnett received a call from the Bonhivers (his phone number was left on their caller ID), who explained that his decision to stop and help Thomas saved his life.

Hearing from them that day made him think about how the two incidents might be related.

“Maybe the reason I was so drawn to go back,” Barnett says, “was because my grandma had something to do with pointing me in the right direction.”

Barnett, who lives in Nashville, where he teaches saxophone performance at Tennessee State University, has stayed in touch with Thomas and Susan Bonhiver. Thomas is recovering well and is already a star in his cardiac rehab program. He’s riding his bike and working his way up to running.

He also now owns four Adrian Barnett CDs.  —Joe Tougas ’86