It started out as any other day in room 361 of the Hankamer School of Business.
Dr. James Henderson, Baylor professor of economics, grabbed his gym bag at about 3 p.m. and started walking to the McLane Student Life Center.
He laced up his basketball shoes and took the court. After two games, Henderson felt good.
As he was walked back from the water fountain to start game three, he suddenly collapsed onto the floor.
Henderson says he was talking to one of his teammates, on his way back to the court, when he, as his teammates describe, stopped and fell back like a tree.
“People think if there’s something wrong they’ll have warning signs,” Henderson said. “But it happened just like that.”
After hitting the ground, fellow player and assistant track coach for Baylor, Danny Brabham, began to perform CPR. Assisting was Zach Beaty, son of Baylor philosophy chair Michael Beaty and Josh Waits, the university’s CPR trainer at the time. While Zach and Danny did CPR, Josh got the defibrillator hooked up.
“Everyone stepped away and 200 joules of electricity kicked me in the chest and restarted my heart,” said Henderson.
It wasn’t until about 10 minutes later that the paramedics got to the SLC. By then Henderson was conscious and sitting up. He had been out with no pulse for about five minutes until the defibrillator revived him.
Upon admission into the hospital, Henderson learned his heart attack was a result of ischemia, or reduced blood supply to the heart.
Doctors discovered that one of the arteries in his heart had a blockage, which caused the heart attack.
“Most of the times arteries are fairly straight. The artery of mine that got blocked did sort of a tight loop,” Henderson said.
Despite going through a surgery to place a stent in the blocked artery, Henderson felt strong within a few days and was eager to continue on with his plans for the summer.
“I was at the time, and still am, the director of the Baylor in Great Britain study abroad program, and we were less than three weeks from leaving for that summer,” Henderson said.
Although he was eager to follow through with his commitment to the program and spend the summer overseas, nothing could persuade his doctor to release him.
“From the time they put the stent in, I had to wait three weeks to take a stress test before I was released,” Henderson said.
Even though Henderson wasn’t allowed to travel with the group when they left, he still played his part as program director and was a big reason the trip was able to happen that year.
The day the group was set to leave for Great Britain, the infamous London underground bombings occurred. On July 7, 2005, a series of suicide bombings targeting civilians in the underground transportation system killed 52 civilians and injured more than 700.
During the crisis, Henderson spent his time, days after having a heart attack, dealing with parents, students and the university’s president attempting to gain clearance for the trip to continue.
Houston graduate Sam Shalala says his devotion to students makes him unforgettable.
“He makes it a point to prepare you for life after Baylor,” Shalala said.
Upon recovering from his heart attack, Henderson felt as if his life was returning to normal.
He was back on the basketball court in a couple of weeks and he passed his stress test. He even met up with the Baylor in Great Britain group to spend the rest of his summer overseas as planned. Almost a whole year had gone by when a slight complication arose.
“A year later I had another stress test and they found a problem,” Henderson said. “My stent was medicated and it got a blood clot, which blocked it up the artery again.”
This time, open-heart bypass surgery was the only solution.
This surgery set him back more than the first surgery. He wasn’t able to go on the trip to Britain that summer or able to teach. But once fall semester rolled around, he was back in the classroom and back on the basketball court,
Since the heart attack, Henderson has seen Baylor’s MBA Healthcare Administration program, one that he had a huge hand in starting, really succeed. The program will graduate its ninth class this year since its inception in 2005. Henderson is also in the process of staring a PhD program for health policy set to begin next year.
Henderson also likes to credit himself and his heart attack for the marriage of his oldest son, Luke. Luke had been living in San Antonio working on his master’s degree at Trinity University.
Upon hearing the news, he traveled home to spend time with his family.
While in Waco, Luke got together with old Baylor friends and met Lisa Mark, who would one day become his wife.
“It’s almost like the heart attack gave them an opportunity to interact with each other that they otherwise wouldn’t have had,” Henderson said.
“Who knows whether that led to them getting married or not, but I like to think it did.”
Eight years and one open heart bypass surgery later, Henderson is still a regular on the courts of the SLC. He wakes up every morning knowing that he is lucky to be alive.
Surviving a heart attack allowed him to see his two sons, Luke and Jesse, graduate. He was also able to witness the birth of his first grandchild, Lottie.
“All of that I would’ve been gone for. I would’ve missed,” said Henderson. “And they would’ve missed out on me being a part of it, which I think is a big deal too.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, heart attacks account for 1 in every 4 deaths in the United States.
That’s approximately 600,000 deaths a year. Henderson would not be included in those numbers.
“People have these survivor stories where they cut their own arm off or something pretty amazing like that. But what did I do? I just sort of laid there.”
Written by: LarissaCampos
Photography by: Sam O’Brien