EXCLUSIVE: Driver gets new chance at life after massive heart attack in rush-hour traffic

ONLY ON KOLD: Rescue as cars race by

TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - Fast-paced is the route, with life flying by at 65-miles-per-hour on Interstate 10 near Alvernon Way.

"It was rush-hour traffic," said Tucson Police Department SWAT officer Ryan Azuelo.

Azuelo and fellow SWAT officer Daniel Lee were headed back to the station from SWAT School, among the thousands of other cars traveling westbound in the evening of October 17, when they happened upon a white pickup truck stopped partially in the westbound fast lane and partially in the median.

"I know that's what I was thinking, that we were just going to help move the car out of the roadway," Officer Lee said. "So definitely not expecting to come across what we did."

At about 6:10 that night, the officers found 45-year-old Chris Basinger slumped over and lifeless in the driver's seat. In newly released video from the officer's body cameras, they pull him out of the car by his arm and lay him down on the ground to find that he does not have a pulse.

"He wasn't responding to anything. I was trying to talk to him," Lee said.

It was only later, at the hospital, that officers learned Basinger had suffered a massive heart attack, specifically known as Ventricular Fibrillation, which is a life-threatening heart rhythm that results in a rapid, inadequate heartbeat.

"I was dead. Upon when they got there I was already passed," Basinger told Tucson News Now.

By 6:12 p.m., fellow Tucson SWAT officer Loren Layton had heard the officers' call for help and was also at Basinger's side in the median. He started chest compression and CPR.

"I was grateful that I had these two guys with me and we could rely on each other to do exactly what needs to be done," Layton said.

Tucson Fire Department Assistant Chief Mike Garcia was in the area, headed home from his normal shift, and jumped in to help. Eventually, the men placed an unresponsive Basinger on a stretcher and loaded him into an ambulance, as they rushed off to Banner University Medical Center's south campus.

"The thing that hit me the most was, there on scene, the last picture in our minds was his lifeless body," Layton said. "And as we're all helping load him into the ambulance, we're all rooting for him and hoping that we did as much as we could."

"When I start thinking about it, being down that long, everybody that was there, it felt like I was letting them all down," Basinger said with a lengthy pause. "So that might've been part of the reason that I was coming back."

Nearly two months later, on Tuesday, December 11, Basinger was back on his two feet. With help from a physical therapist, he walked around the exterior of his parent's northwest Tucson home.

"Doing better. A lot better than what is expected and from what I've heard that I've gone through it's a miracle that I'm as far along as I am," Basinger said. "I see a completely different person from what I was a month and a half to two months ago."

Basinger now has a pacemaker in his chest. He talked to Tucson News Now with his family surrounding him at his parent's home, as if he was a celebrity. But he couldn't help but think about and thank those who got him to this point - the doctors, nurses, EMT, and SWAT officers - as he sat safer and healthier in a comfortable recliner.

Strength is back in his body with each step he took, exercising with his physical therapist.

"If it hadn't been for all of them put together, I wouldn't be here right now. So it is hard for me to see that I'm the 'man of the hour' because there's a lot of other people that deserve the recognition that have gotten me where I am right now," he said.

He called Layton, Lee, and Azuelo his "guardian angels."

"They didn't have to stop. They didn't have to be by there at that time. But from what I understand the three of them talked to each other before they started CPR, and they were going to do it. If they ran out of energy, they were going to switch out. I guess they switched out several times. But neither one of those three were going to give up," he explained.

The recovery has had some major bumps along the way. Basinger said his heart gave out once more in the hospital, with no heartbeat for about 30 minutes, before the emergency room team was able to revive him. Basinger teared up talking and thinking about his 12-year-old son who had to say goodbye to his father as he nearly died again in the hospital.

His recovery has been nothing short of miraculous as his angels were there to see him along the way, watching over him on their visits to his hospital bed.

“Went in there and the nurse said that he was awake,” Officer Azuelo said. “Went in there and talked to him. She’s saying, ‘This is one of the officers that found you on the freeway.’ Going in there and seeing him and having his head come up and he can’t really talk or anything, but seeing that he was saying, ‘Thank you,’ and just bringing his hand across to shake his hand. It still gives me the chills.”

On Tuesday, joy spread into the grateful father's face, as Basinger was given a second chance at life - one that nearly flew by and was gone at 65 miles per hour.

“I want to see what’s in the future for me. I was brought back from the dead twice,” he said. “There’s a reason for that and I’d love to see where it’s going.”

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