McLean County farmer happy to have another harvest after heart attack

PHYLLIS COULTER Illinois Farmer Today

Evan Leake is enjoying the harvest season with his family – his sons Callahan, 5, and Carson, 4, and his wife Erika – probably more than most farmers. In 2019, he nearly died of a heart attack. He now shares his story with other farmers about the importance of knowing CPR and having an AED available.


It’s certainly not uncommon for a machinery technician to save the day during harvest season, but it’s rare for a technician to literally save a farmer’s life.

A John Deere technician had passed by Evan Leake’s farm near Lexington in August 2019 when the 30-year-old suddenly collapsed while suffering a heart attack.

A few days before, Evan had passed his medical and had no reason to suspect anything was wrong as he began a routine oil change. Moments later, he was in a life-and-death crisis.

Today, Evan and his wife Erika tell their story in hopes of helping others. In September, they spoke to farmers at a Farm Bureau meeting hosted by longtime friend and fellow farmer Jason Kieser.

Kieser, the chairman of the McLean County Farm Bureau, had attended a statewide meeting for young leaders in January and was moved by the story of a young farmer who survived a farm accident. He was even more touched when the young farmer’s wife recounted how the experience had affected the whole family.

Kieser thought of his friends, Evan and Erika, and invited them to tell their story. He knew it would have more impact in the farming community than hearing statistics.

“He’s one of us,” Kieser said.

Kieser said hearing the full story of the experience from his friends motivated him to take action when it came to CPR training and get an AED, an automated external defibrillator designed to analyze heart rhythm and deliver an electric shock to victims.

Evan’s experience was a health issue, rather than a farming accident, but it still has a valuable message that people can learn from and take action on, Kieser said.

This morning of August 16, 2019, Erika had left their farm in Lexington, taking her baby and 2-year-old sons to daycare before heading to work at the State Farm Insurance office in Bloomington, about 30 miles away.

Their John Deere technician came by just to let Evan know he would be back after another call.

“He was light-headed and fell against the truck of the visiting technician. At first he thought Evan was joking,” Erika said.

Then Evan collapsed. The technician, humble about his role that day, prefers that his name not be used. He started CPR immediately, Erika said.

“CPR is an essential part of his story,” she said.

A farmer Evan was working for at the time called 911 and the dispatcher immediately got things going.

When the call came, a county deputy was nearby and reached the farm before the ambulance arrived, Kieser said.

Evan had mitral valve prolapse, a heart condition that some people live with in their 80s and 90s, Erika said. He doesn’t remember much of what happened at the time of the accident, so Erika tells that part of the story.

She received the phone call at work, which was near OSF St. Joseph Medical Center in Bloomington. So close in fact, she got to the hospital before the ambulance.

“At first I thought it was a farm accident,” she said.

She was first warned that he might have brain damage and might need to go to extended rehab to relearn skills.

The quick action of people at the scene and immediate specialist treatment in hospital prepared him for a faster recovery than most people in this situation. Within a day, she learned that he would fully recover.

“He is literally a walking miracle,” she said. “He quickly came to his senses and regained his strength.”

“What I remember is the value of an AED. It opened my eyes,” Kieser said.

Kieser, who has employees on his farm, said the cost of a new defibrillator is less than $2,100 and a used defibrillator is around $900.

“In my opinion, it’s a drop in the ocean,” he said of investing in a farm.

The key would be to keep it close to where the farm work is taking place, he said.

After the harvest, he plans to talk with his parents at their farm in Shirley, central Illinois, about getting CPR training as well, he said.

Kieser said if those two things, CPR and AED, weren’t available to Evan that day, his friend probably wouldn’t be there.

It’s worth it, said Erika.

“It’s not a guarantee it will save a life, but it could,” she said.

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