"We thought he was a goner," said Costa. "But there was one resident who said, 'Let's keep going. If it were me, I would not want you to stop.' "
The team shocked Hesford's heart one more time. It began to beat.
Mercy staff members hurried Hesford into a special treatment room in which the body is cooled to prevent brain damage. Cooling the body slows the metabolism, and, in turn, appears to limit the damage.
Meanwhile, band members from Telesma had rushed into the hospital, their faces still streaked with paint.
Juskus said her heart sank when she first saw Hesford — tubes jutted from his body, and he was hooked up to a cluster of machines.
"Once we got there, no one talked. We were in a state of shock," Juskus said. "It didn't look good."
The next morning, things looked even worse: Hesford's heart stopped again. But doctors managed to get it beating once more.
A show of love
About 15 years ago, Hesford fell off his mountain bike and broke his collarbone. He used the two weeks of medical leave from his job in a warehouse to teach himself to play the didgeridoo.
"The sound was familiar somehow," said Hesford. "That's how it is with every instrument I play — it's always deja vu."
For Hesford, playing music is a sort of meditation. When he and Sage formed Telesma — the name comes from the Greek root of "talisman" — they sought to create music that would elevate listeners to a deeper state of consciousness.
"It doesn't matter what instrument you're playing, or from what musical tradition. That's you expressing the human spirit," he said.
On the Saturday morning after his collapse, as Hesford lay sedated, musicians gathered in the narrow room to begin a vigil. With the permission of Mercy staffers, they brought instruments. Guitars. Flutes. Harps. Singing bowls.
The musicians leaned close to his sleeping body, playing low tones. Throat singers crowded around his bed. Some played didgeridoos.
"They would let us play right over him so the tones were going into his body," said Sage.
Mostly, Sage says, people sat in the hospital room, "holding hands and believing."
But doctors prepared Hesford's relatives and friends for more bad news. Since his brain had been deprived of normal oxygen levels for so long, it was likely that his personality and intellect would never be the same. He might never be able to speak, let alone sing or play music.
But a week after the collapse, Hesford began to wake. His eyes sought out the faces in his hospital room. "Wow," he said.
For a couple of days, he said only two things: "Wow" and "I love you."
Soon Hesford was walking around the ward. He was confused — he thought it was 1995 and Bill Clinton was still in the White House — and had to be frequently reminded that he was in the hospital because his heart had stopped. While he was unconscious, Telesma's latest album arrived; each time he heard it, he marveled at the songs as if he had never heard them before. But bit by bit, his memory returned.
Sue Brown, Hesford's night nurse in Mercy's intensive care unit, was stunned at how quickly and completely he recovered.
"I could see changes in him from the beginning of a shift to the end," she said. "I've been working 25 years in the ICU, and I've never seen anyone recover like this. I'm telling everyone: I've witnessed a miracle."
The staffers on the ward, accustomed to witnessing painful, partial recoveries, were heartened by Hesford's rebound.
"It was such a positive thing for the whole ICU, to have someone like him who was so sick and did so well," said Costa. "He and his friends and family had such a positive energy. It was so good for all of us."
A few weeks after Hesford left the hospital, he returned for a party with the nurses and doctors who had cared for him. He embraced them and spoke, for the first time, with nurses who had watched over him when he was in a coma.
Hesford says he does not remember the events of the week leading up to his collapse or the week immediately afterward. Even the details of his second week are fuzzy. But he recalls clearly the emotional intensity of returning to awareness while surrounded by family and friends.
"As far as I'm concerned, I fell asleep for two weeks and woke up and was showered by love," he said.
Being a musician can be a lonely life, he says. Grueling practices and frequent tours can make it hard to maintain relationships. But the love he felt while recovering has caused him to shrug off any illusion of loneliness, he says.
"I can never feel lonely again," he said. "It's been fundamentally disproven."
Hesford is not sure how he will pay his staggering medical bills. He does not have health insurance and has little savings. Besides his musical career, he has worked a series of part-time jobs, like waiting tables at Joe Squared pizza in Station North.
Yet Hesford describes his collapse and recovery as "an extreme blessing."
"It's one of the best things that ever happened to me," he said.
His mind and body have recovered fully. Doctors implanted a pacemaker in case Hesford's heart stops beating again. He has returned to his music with renewed fervor, more firm in the convictions behind his work's spiritual aspects.
"I wouldn't take any of it back. What I gained from it was invaluable," Hesford said. "I didn't know how much of a community there was. How much love."
In late July, exactly three months after Hesford collapsed, the members of Telesma played another show at Rams Head Live. Hesford's body was painted in swirls of paint. Ecstatically, he pounded the drums, danced, blew into the didgeridoo. Two audience members joined the band onstage — Swiss and Saccoccio, who had frantically blown life into Hesford's body.
The show was called "Resurrection."
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