RUPERT— Last summer Ray Eagle and his wife, Tress, found a new love.

The first painted rock they found was at Ridley’s Market sitting on a ledge. Ray didn’t know that hiding painted rocks was a trend — and he was hooked. The simple rock had likely been painted by a child and depicted a campfire.

“I liked it,” he said. “And I thought to myself, ‘I’ve got to find more of these,’” he said.

Each one was unique, some simple or silly, others were works of art. Some they kept, and others they re-hid for someone else to discover.

The Rupert couple was soon making regular excursions to walking paths and parks in search of new finds. The couple doesn’t have a computer or internet, so they weren’t members of the Facebook group, “Burley Rocks,” that gives hints for where rocks are hidden.

Ray Eagle, of Rupert, talks Feb. 2, 2018, about the messages painted on rocks that were left at his home.

Ray had no idea at the time that his newfound interest would play a part in keeping him alive when he suffered a heart attack six months later. On the morning of Dec. 7, Ray wasn’t feeling well when he woke.

“I felt bad, and I thought I wasn’t going to go look for rocks that day,” he said. “But, I decided to go anyway.”

His new habit of hunting for rocks along the Heyburn path meant instead of lying down for a nap when he didn’t feel well, he took a walk.

“If I wouldn’t have gone to the park I would have taken a nap,” he said. “And I probably wouldn’t have gotten back up.”

When he returned home, he had broken out in a sweat and his left arm hurt so he drove himself to the hospital, where he was told he was having a heart attack. From there, he was flown to St. Luke’s Magic Valley Medical Center.

“He didn’t want me to go out rock hunting that day because it was too cold,” Tress said. “It was the first time we hadn’t gone out together.”

She was unaware of Ray’s condition until the hospital called, but when she rushed over there, he was already loaded in the helicopter, and she did not get to talk to him.

Doctors put stents in his wrists and told him they couldn’t do any more for him at the time. If he started to feel unwell, he was instructed to go to a Salt Lake City hospital for further treatment. By Christmas, his condition had deteriorated, and after a trip to the local hospital he was transferred to the Utah hospital. Ray underwent a triple bypass, with artery grafts taken from his leg and neck.

“Two days before the operation I could feel myself slipping away,” Ray said. “I didn’t feel like I had a couple of days left. I was getting weaker, and I felt like my organs were shutting down.”

While Ray was in the hospital the couple’s daughter Kayla Rodriguez, of Illinois, put up a Facebook post asking people to make rocks for him and leave them at his house. When he returned home after a 28-day stay in the hospital, dozens of stones painted by Mini-Cassia rock hunters waited for him, many with words of encouragement or messages.

Rocks at Ray Eagle's home on Feb. 2, 2018, that were left by members of the Burley Rocks Facebook group members during his surgery.

“I cried a little bit when I saw them,” he said.

Daughter Melanie Rorris of Twin Falls, said her dad was struck by the number of people who cared enough to do something like that for someone.

“The simple things in life bring him joy,” she said. “He was so happy to go home and see what was waiting for him and he was really shocked at the number of rocks that had been left. It really meant something to him.”

Right now, Ray is still not well enough to walk outside, so he watches from the car as Tress goes out in search of the treasures.

“I can’t wait until I get better so I can go out looking for more,” he said. “In another three to four weeks, if the weather is nice, I’ll be out there trolling all over the place looking for rocks.”