At the end of a mid-November day in 2000, Willis Luedke noticed his chest was beginning to hurt.
More uncomfortable than painful, he told himself it was acid reflux.
When the pain moved into his neck and arm, his wife, Suzanne, drove them to the Crete Hospital emergency room, where an electrocardiogram showed he was having a heart attack.
What happened in the next crucial minutes is one reason Luedke would play a key role in the hospital's next decade, a milestone period that included building a new hospital at a new location and developing it into a true area healthcare center.
"The care I received that day in the ER definitely influenced my decision to remain with the hospital board...If not for the medical staff, the support of my wife and family, and the grace of God, I wouldn't be sitting here," he said. "It's one of the reasons I was willing to work as hard as I did to get the new CAMC facility promoted."
Not long after arriving at the ER that day, Luedke "coded"; the line on the heart monitor went flat.
He saw the bright light often associated with near-death experiences, while medical staff, including Dr. Russell Ebke and ER nurse Judy Lorenz, saw a 64-year-old male whose life depended on split-second decisions.
A defibrillator and CPR stabilized Luedke enough for a transfer to BryanLGH Medical Center.
Luedke woke up in the BryanLGH Intensive Care Unit, recovering from quintuple bypass surgery.
That could have been the end of his community service to the Crete area. At some level, the stress and time his volunteer roles demanded may have contributed to the heart attack.
"I pushed myself. I burned the candle on both ends for a while," Luedke recalls.
In addition to his longtime career as a Crete Public School educator and administrator, the list of organizations Luedke has served includes the Saline County Board of Commissioners, Crete City Council, the Nebraska Association of County Officials state board, Nebraska Intergovernmental Risk Management Association (NIRMA) board, Blue Valley Community Action board, the Southeast Nebraska Resource Conservation and Development board and numerous church boards.
At the time of the heart attack, he was making decisions on a new county jail as a Saline County Commissioner, and making decisions on the future of the Crete hospital as a member of its board.
The heart attack changed Luedke's perspective, but would not touch his dedication to service.
"Ever since we moved here 52 years ago, Crete has been home to us. I wanted to give back and I was interested in the total community - education, health, industry, all of it.
Luedke recovered and stepped back into most of those community roles, including the hospital board and the Crete Area Medical Center Board.
He shares his story at a table in the cafeteria of CAMC, where both the healthcare center and his health journey have come full circle.
Luedke retired from the CAMC board in May, after serving nine years.
The facilities where he began and ended his board service stand in sharp contrast. When he joined the board, Crete's former hospital was out of room. The cost to remodel seemed more than the community could afford. But a new hospital seemed out of the picture, too, he said.
"About the same time, BryanLGH came in and wanted to know if we'd be interested in a partnership in a new facility...It was a dream come true from my perspective. Had they not stepped forward, Crete would not have this facility," said Luedke.
The next years would not be easy.
"It was an exciting, challenging time. I had some sleepless nights over the magnitude of the whole concept."
CAMC opened on the east edge of Crete in 2003 as a subsidiary of BryanLGH. It offers an integrated hospital, clinic and medical physician offices in one location.
Luedke is proudest of CAMC's dedicated staff, who took the project far beyond just a new building.
"The staff really supported this and took ownership," Luedke adds.
He's also proud that CAMC became the area medical center it was designed to be. The addition of outpatient physician services boosted patient numbers and drew residents beyond Crete's borders.
It's hard to believe his time on the board is over, he said.
CAMC is a second home, right down to the visits to its cardiac rehabilitation center, which he has logged like clockwork ever since the heart attack.
The day CAMC opened is just one of the things he would have missed in the last 10 years, if the events of that November day had turned out differently.
Heart attacks are defining moments.
They change perspectives.
Make you appreciate family in deeper way.
"I think about what my family would have done. They would have survived without me, but..." he says, voice trailing off. "Christmas, birthdays, everything - it means more to you."
That's why CAMC wasn't just a place or a project to him.
It saved his life.
And when he looked at its budgets and blueprints and construction documents, he saw the lives it would better.