When Ryan Arnold woke up in a strange room with no idea how he got there, the first thing that crossed his mind also happened to be the first thing he saw just a few moments later.
"It was her," he said, looking at his fiancée, Jamie Sawyer. "She was right there by my side."
Arnold, 25, spent nearly four days in the hospital - including almost two in a medically induced coma - when his heart stopped after he was struck in the chest Tuesday night with a softball during a game at Stewart Park.
He was cleared for release from Billings Clinic and a little more than an hour later was surrounded by nearly 100 friends and family at a barbecue fundraiser in his honor. As Arnold slowly walked up to the barbecue at Rose Park, heads turned and a round of applause rippled through the crowd.
"It makes you feel good," he said of the support. "I guess you don't know how many friends you've really got until something happens. That means a lot."
Wednesday night, more than 150 people attended a candlelight vigil to pray for Arnold.
When Arnold's heart stopped after the softball, thrown from the outfield, accidentally hit him in the chest, two Billings Clinic nurses who were at the park, Megan McLeod and Becky Parnell, performed cardio-pulmonary resuscitation until firefighters and paramedics arrived. They intubated him and used a portable defibrillator to shock his heart back into beat.
Arnold said McLeod and Parnell saved his life and that he owes them "a million thanks."
"I call them 'angel one' and 'angel two,' " said Laurie Dukart, Arnold's mother, of McLeod and Parnell.
The accident almost threw a wrench into what Arnold said is the most important thing on his mind now, his upcoming marriage to Sawyer. The two have been dating for about four years and are scheduled to be married on Saturday. She was by his side for much of the time he was hospitalized and was there when he was brought out of the coma almost two days after the accident.
Family members said they are optimistic the two will be able to walk down the aisle as scheduled.
"They predict he's going to make a full recovery," said Arnold's father, Gary Arnold. "Every day he gets a little bit better, and they plan on going through with it."
While Sawyer declined to be interviewed, the look of relief on her face was evident as a small smile spread across her face when people lined up to hug her fiancé.
After word spread that Arnold had been released and as friends and family waited for him to make an appearance at the fundraiser, they expressed their relief that he is recovering and their thanks to everyone who had a hand in helping him out. Dukart and her husband, Scott Dukart, said the support was overwhelming, with 95 people visiting Arnold during the first two days he was in the hospital.
"What do you say to everybody?" Laurie Dukart asked. "It doesn't seem like 'thank you' is enough."
Eric Keller has known Arnold for 20 years, since they started playing tee-ball together as kids, and expressed similar feelings.
"It's thank you enough to see him up and walking around," he said. "It restores your faith in the community."
Arnold said he doesn't remember the day the accident happened and that he is feeling "a lot better." He is already chomping at the bit to get back on the field and jokingly argued back-and-forth with a teammate about playing in their next softball game on Tuesday.
When asked if he had anything else to say, Arnold plugged his favorite sports team.
"Go Yankees," he said.