Two Healthcare Professionals Help Save their Sunday School Teacher’s Life After He Suffered Cardiac Arrest

By Erikah Woodworth

Bill Wehlage was in the middle of teaching his Sunday school lesson at Grace Harbor Baptist Church in Grove, Okla. in mid-March 2023 when he suffered cardiac arrest.

Just as his class began to dive into discussion questions, Bill headed to the back of the room to take a seat when suddenly he collapsed in his chair.

“The room just started spinning,” Bill recalled. “And I went black.”

Concerned, Joey Gregory, a student in the class who is also a nurse practitioner at Grove Integris Hospital, sprung up from his seat. Joey has been a member of the church since 2017 and says that Bill always gave them a hard time about falling asleep during class, but this time everyone realized that this wasn’t another one of his jokes.

With no underlying heart conditions at 57, his friends and family never expected that Bill would be in a fight for his life right before their very eyes, especially not his better half, Karen Wehlage, who rushed to his side when she felt that something just wasn’t right.

Left to right – Bill Wehlage, Joey Gregory, Macy Dean, Josh West (State Representative for Oklahoma) and Pastor Marty Hughes

Church officials already had an emergency response plan in place and began to take immediate action. While one member called 911, another ran to the church gymnasium to notify Macy Dean, a medic at Grove Integris Hospital who was on the church’s Rapid Response Team.

Joey and Macy live through moments like these every day, but this one was personal. According to Joey, Bill is “someone who would give you the shirt off his back and help anyone,” and seeing a longtime friend in this condition was something he didn’t think he would have to face in his 20 years of being a healthcare professional.

“You feel like someone punches you in the stomach,” Joey said. “You can’t catch your breath.”

Joey said but something just clicks, and you get through that emotion.

Bill’s breathing continued to get worse. Seconds later, he was no longer responsive and without a pulse.

Macy took the lead with compressions and Joey applied a bag-mask for ventilation while Grove Fire Department who happened to be in the neighborhood over was on the way with an automated external defibrillator (AED). Bill was in ventricular fibrillation, a dangerous and abnormal heart rhythm that resulted from disordered electrical activity of the heart. Every second mattered.

The air within the classroom was thick and full of prayers from close family, friends and loved ones as they watched the first responders try to resuscitate Bill.

“I walked away because I didn’t want to watch it,” Karen said.

In less than five minutes, Grove Fire Department arrived with an AED allowing Joey and Macy to work alongside the very same healthcare providers that they know and trust to save Bill. A shock was applied as advised by the AED and after five minutes of high-quality CPR, a normal heart rhythm was restored. Bill was conscious, responsive, and witty as ever.

His first words after a cardiac arrest? “Ya’ll aren’t getting out of finishing those discussion questions.”

Bill was used to putting people first so naturally, he was more interested in finishing his Sunday school class for those who desired to grow their faith, than getting to a hospital for post-cardiac arrest care. Nonetheless, to recover so quickly seconds after resuscitation was a rarity in itself.

“I’ve been doing this for 20 years and I have never seen that in my whole career,” Joey said.

Bill was in far better condition than any other heart patient his doctors had ever seen. After being in the hospital for only two days for pacemaker implantation surgery, he was back at Sunday school a week later teaching again.

“Originally, I wasn’t even supposed to be there on that Sunday,” Joey recalled as he reflected on how everything could have ended differently that day.

After wrapping up a week of vacation with his three kids, Joey was exhausted and didn’t want to leave his bed. But as a member of the praise and worship team, Joey says he felt a sense of responsibility and decided to push his way to church Sunday morning.

That sense of responsibility helped save a life.

The Wehlage’s live further out in the country of Jay, Oklahoma and with Karen’s limited knowledge of CPR and first aid training, they are grateful that it happened not only when it did, but where it did.

“It could not have been a more perfect situation,” Macy said as she credited her faith in the reason why everything fell into place to save Bill’s life.

According to Karen, Bill never cries, but “he was constantly tearing up,” not only from the realization that they brought him back from death, but also from the thought of leaving his wife behind.

Bill hasn’t received CPR training since he retired as an Army Chaplain in 2013 and says that this experience helped him realize the importance of CPR training and staying up to date with his skills.

To continue to spread awareness in their community, the church presented AHA Heartsaver Hero Awards to Joey and Macy, alongside Oklahoma State representatives, Josh West, and pastor Marty Hughes during a  Sunday service.

“AEDs save lives. CPR saves lives. We’re living proof of it,” Joey said.

Joey and Macy received advanced and basic CPR training through the American Heart Association and are equipped with the skill, experience, and mental strength to carry out the chain of survival. Currently seven in 10 of Americans do not have the knowledge or confidence to act in the event of a cardiac arrest. As an AHA CPR Instructor for 10 years, Joey said he wants to continue to be a part of the solution and educate the community.

“If there is anything you can do to save a human life, do it,” Bill said. “And train to be your best!”

The AHA is committed to transforming a nation of bystanders into a Nation of Lifesavers. Join the movement that can make a difference in the life of someone’s partner, parent, friend, or family.