UK Men's Basketball

UK basketball notebook: UNC fan owes his life to Issel in-law

Jerry Tipton
Jerry Tipton

The story of how a Kentucky fan saved the life of a North Carolina fan, and how they will reunite at next weekend's UK-UNC game begins with a commotion in a hotel hallway.

Near the aptly named Cape Fear River, Vicki Sageser heard noise outside her hotel room the morning of July 26, 2009. The thought of children running up and down the hallway crossed her mind. But before she could dismiss the sound, her husband, Gene, said he thought he heard a woman screaming.

The Sagesers opened their door to check and saw a life-or-death situation.

"There was a woman in the hall frantically running and screaming, 'Help! Help! My husband is having a heart attack,'" Vicki recalled last week.

Fate was smiling on the frantic wife and her stricken husband. Then as now, Vicki Sageser teaches life-saving and cardiopulmonary resuscitation in the University of Kentucky College of Education's department of kinesiology and health promotion.

After quickly changing from pajamas to shorts and a T-shirt, Vicki rushed across the hall into the man's room. She saw the wife trying to perform CPR on her husband, who was lying, seemingly lifeless, on a bed.

"It was obvious she didn't know what she was doing," Vicki said. "She was just trying to do something."

More than once, Vicki volunteered to do CPR. She noted how she was certified in the life-saving skill. Finally, the wife relented.

By then, Gene and other men had come to the room. They lifted John "Toby" Tyler (5-feet-10, 195 pounds) off the bed and onto the floor. "You can't do CPR on a soft surface," Vicki said.

For the next 15 minutes, or until paramedics arrived, Vicki blew air into Tyler's lungs and compressed his chest to force his blood to circulate. She was oblivious to the victim's wife, Marti Tyler, pleading with her to continue the CPR.

"It's an exhausting thing to do," Vicki said. "The adrenalin was pumping, and I was in a different zone. I never got tired. I have to give God a lot of the glory. I just kept going. Just like another power was working in me."

Though certified for more than 30 years, Sageser had never performed CPR on a dying person. "You always wonder what would you do in that situation," she said.

CPR does not revive a victim. It temporarily keeps revival possible. "I'm trying to do what the heart and lungs normally do," she said. If she stops, he dies.

Tyler, then 63, had a history of heart problems. He'd twice suffered mild heart attacks. Less than three years earlier, he'd had triple bypass surgery. As Vicki performed CPR, Tyler did not respond except to briefly open his eyes and take two deep breaths. "Kind of a guttural response," Sageser said.

Upon arrival, paramedics needed four shocks with an defibrillator to restart Tyler's heart. Then they rushed him to the nearby New Hanover Regional Medical Center in Wilmington, N.C.

Vicki and Gene returned to their room, where she told her husband, "I don't have much hope for him."

Since that morning, Vicki has thought about many what-ifs. An early riser, Tyler had taken a four-mile walk in Wilmington before dawn that morning. What if he had been stricken then? At the time Tyler's wife screamed for help, Vicki and Gene normally would have been walking their two dogs (the hotel accepted dogs). But being roused by a fire alarm earlier that morning led them to sleep in. What if there had been no fire alarm?

"It was like happenstance of circumstances," Vicki said.

Because 15 minutes of CPR is an eternity, doctors were concerned about brain damage. At the hospital, a ventilator enabled Tyler to breath as doctors lowered his body temperature to about 90 degrees. When the medical staff warmed his body two days later, Tyler awoke. He was confused about why he was in a hospital or how he got there but otherwise fine.

Friends and family ask Tyler about the near-death experience. Was there a bright light? Did he see Jesus?

"I felt I was in a canoe, laying flat in a canoe," he said. "Like floating in water, that little motion you can feel. And pitch black. You can't see anything.

"The canoe grinds up on a sandy bank, and you can feel the sand sort of against the bottom of the canoe. Then you feel it slide back out in the water again. Next thing I know I wake up."

When asked how he interpreted this sensation, Tyler said, "Just life and death. The shore was death and water was life."

On the morning Tyler regained consciousness, Vicki's cell phone rang. When she answered, she heard a man say, "Hey, Kentucky. It's great to be alive."

It was Tyler.

"I about freaked out," Vicki said.

Tyler wanted to meet the woman who saved his life. On Friday, the day before their weeklong vacation ended, Vicki and Gene went to the hospital.

"His son picked me up and twirled me around," Vicki said, chuckling at the memory.

Tyler, a man quick to laugh and find humor in any situation, joked last week, "The only bad thing is I can't believe a Kentucky woman saved my life."

Vicki, who is 5-1 and 112 pounds, was a UK cheerleader from 1971 through 1974.

A clerk of court in Bertie County, N.C., Tyler often reflected on why he survived. He thought the answer came in spring 2010 when he and his wife were baby-sitting for one of their grandsons. Cole, 5, began choking on a quarter. Before rushing to the emergency room, Tyler tried to perform the Heimlich maneuver for the first time in his life.

"Prettiest sound I ever heard was when that quarter hit the floor," Tyler said. "Right then, I said, now I know why I got to stay here."

Tyler, who had a pacemaker implanted in a follow-up surgery, invited Vicki and Gene to his home on the one-year anniversary of the life-saving morning.

They will again mark the occasion this year when Tyler attends the UK-UNC game with Vicki and Gene on Saturday.

Tyler attended UNC. So did his two children and his parents. So his chances of rooting for UK, even for Vicki's sake, are practically nil.

"Probably not," he said of rooting for the Cats, "but I'm going to be very sedate and very judicious in my remarks. I probably won't have on my trademark Carolina blue."

On Dec. 5, he will speak to Vicki's first-aid class. The public is invited to attend what's being called a "CPR celebration" from noon to 1 in the William T. Young Library auditorium.

Tyler's message? "Pay attention to this little wiry woman," he said. "You might save somebody's life."

Marrying up

UK instructor Vicki Sageser is the sister-in-law of Kentucky basketball's career scoring leader, Dan Issel.

This impressed North Carolina fan John "Toby" Tyler, whose life Sageser saved two years ago.

"I think that's just as great as it could be," he said before playfully adding, "The only way that could be better is if she was married to (former UNC All-American Billy) Cunningham or Bobby Jones."

No regrets

After the victory over Radford, UK All-American candidate Terrence Jones agreed with the premise of a reporter's question: Given the NBA lockout, it was fun to play college basketball as a sophomore.

"I'm playing in games and playing on one of the top teams in college," he said. "... I'm glad I came back for that opportunity."

That doesn't necessarily mean former UK teammate Brandon Knight erred by entering this year's NBA Draft or that Jones sees that decision as a mistake.

"He was in my room last night," Jones said. "He did what was best for him.

"Brandon, he's still working out. He's still hanging out with me. Nothing's changed. His career is in a pause right now."

UK Coach John Calipari downplayed the idea that Jones sacrificed for UK's sake by returning to school. "If somebody was taking him in the top 10, he would have gone," the UK coach said, "because I would have told him to go."

Calipari saluted Jones for not playing for the NBA scouts. "If you were him, aren't you trying to shoot every ball?" the UK coach said. " ... It shows the kind of person he is. That's who you want on the team."

Penn State fans

When Kentucky played Penn State last weekend, two Penn State fans sat in the second row near their team bench. Despite the ongoing football scandal that led to the firing of iconic coach Joe Paterno, they proudly wore Penn State shirts and rooted for the team.

"We're not ashamed of the university," said Rosemarie Kupchinsky, 65. "The kids didn't do anything wrong."

Her husband, Thomas Kupchinsky, 69, said the media had rushed to judgment in questioning Paterno's handling of assistant Jerry Sandusky's alleged sexual assault of a child.

While Penn State professor Mike Poorman wondered aloud how the school's basketball players and travel party would be treated at the Mohegan Sun resort and during other road trips this season, the Kupchinskys said all had been good in Connecticut.

"We've been here 21/2 days," Rosemarie said. "Not one person said a negative thing."

Say what?

Earlier this month, ESPN personality Trey Wingo made perhaps the most startling on-air comment in connection to the Penn State football scandal.

Wingo is a 1985 Baylor graduate. Baylor basketball became embroiled in a scandal in 2002-03 in which player Carlton Dotson eventually was charged with murder in the death of teammate Patrick Dennehy.

During the early stages of the case, when Dennehy was missing and his body had not been found, then-coach Dave Bliss urged Wingo to downplay the story because Bliss thought Baylor could have a good season, Wingo said on ESPN radio.

Bliss resigned from Baylor in 2003 after internal and NCAA investigations.

In recalling that conversation, Wingo noted how the pursuit of victory could be taken to grotesque extremes.

Happy birthday

To former UK coach Joe B. Hall. He turns 83 on Wednesday. ... To former UK All-American Jamal Mashburn. He turns 39 on Tuesday. ... To former UK point guard Larry Johnson. He turns 57 on Monday. ... To former UK player Steve Lochmueller. He turned 59 on Friday. ... To former UK sports information director Brooks Downing. He turns 48 on Wednesday.