By Justin Swanson | LB Indy
Longtime Laguna Beach resident Jon Stillwell passed away on Friday, Jan. 4, just a day after he was rushed to Mission Hospital in Mission Viejo by ambulance.
Without personal trainer Brian Wisely, though, Stillwell likely would not have had even that 24-hour chance for doctors to attempt to save him.
Three days after the new year, Wisely was opening his personal fitness studio, The Well, at 6:30 a.m. A client, Carol Foster, had just arrived when he received a distress call. It was Stillwell.
“I need help,” Stillwell panted frantically into the phone. His breathing was heavy, distorting the phone’s reception, rendering a hint of some sort of chaos. Wisely knew something was wrong.
“Don’t call 911,” Stillwell managed to instruct him. “Come get me,” he labored. “Take me to the hospital.”
Wisely admittedly was unsure what to anticipate and wondered why Stillwell decided to call him. He had known Stillwell for more than 20 years, and Stillwell had been a client of his for the last three years.
Foster sensed the potential severity of the situation and agreed to accompany him. Wisely called emergency services while en route.
When the two arrived at Stillwell’s house, the door was locked. They knocked, no answer. Wisely, who had been there before, knew he would be able to see into the house through the patio door around back. Still on the line with 911 and describing what he saw, Wisely and Foster worked their way towards the rear of the house, peaking in windows where possible, searching for any sign of Stillwell.
Finally out on the patio, Wisely cupped his hands around his eyes and pressed his head against the glass, peering in. He found the stairs and traced them with his eyes downwards, finding Stillwell’s motionless body on the ground at the bottom flight.
At that point, Wisely grasped the peril and a rushing sensation of adrenaline kicked in, propelling him into action.
Where he had been cautious and wary before, he was now intent and singularly focused. He relayed to dispatchers that they had found Stillwell and were devising a plan to reach him.
Wisely broke a window, ripped open the screen, and crawled through. He reached for Stillwell’s shoulder and searched for life. They made eye contact. Wisely could tell that Stillwell was conscious and breathing, though barely. He could not talk. He could not move. Wisely felt Stillwell tremor.
“Jon,” he said. “I’m here. Help is on the way.”
Wisely opened the front door, letting in his client and preparing for the paramedics’ arrival. Wisely still could not tell what had happened.
Eventually, the paramedics did arrive and took Stillwell for treatment. He died the next evening after suffering an embolism and a stroke.
Wisely stayed at Stillwell’s house with police officers, describing his action. They deduced that Stillwell must have collapsed after calling Wisely, because they found Stillwell’s cell phone in a different room.
“I’m not sure why he called me,” Wisely says. “Perhaps because it was early in the morning and he knew I wasn’t more than a half-mile away.”
Wisely notes the help Foster provided, as she was the one suggesting to break a window to gain entry. She flagged down the emergency crew and served as Wisely’s moral support. He stresses the criticality of dialing 911, even if it was against Stillwell’s wishes for it was indeed in his interest.
For his part, Wisely shrugs off the hero’s role.
“I did what anybody would do,” he said. “Jon would’ve done the same for me and I expect my friends to do the same.”
He continues, “Jon always brought a smile to people’s faces. I will miss him. I wish I could have done more.”
Stillwell, 57, is survived by his two children. A memorial service was held this past Monday at Laguna Presbyterian Church.