A hiker who was airlifted out of Mount Rainier National Park after getting stranded in “whiteout” conditions reportedly “died” for 45 minutes once he arrived at the hospital the following day.
According to The Seattle Times, Michael Knapinski, 45, arrived at the hospital on Sunday, unconscious but still with a pulse, after spending a night lost in the park. But shortly after arriving, Knapinski went into cardiac arrest and his heart stopped.
Dr. Jenelle Badulak, one of Knapinski’s doctors, told The Seattle Times that after his heart stopped beating, the medical team performed CPR on Knapinski repeatedly, and subsequently hooked him up to a machine that removes carbon dioxide from blood in the body and returns it with oxygenated blood.
His heart started beating again after 45 minutes, but he remained unconscious.
“He died while he was in the ER, which gave us the unique opportunity to try and save his life by basically bypassing his heart and lungs, which is the most advanced form of artificial life support that we have in the world,” said Badulak.
Two days later, reports The New York Times, Knapinski opened his eyes and “mouthed a request” to a nurse, letting her know that he wanted to speak to his mom.
“He was as dead as somebody gets before they are truly dead,” said Dr. Saman Arbabi, the medical director of the hospital’s intensive care unit. “For this person to come back and his mental status to be great, it is as miraculous as it gets in medicine.”
“He came back from the dead,” said Dr. Arbabi. “Maybe not medically quite correct, but his heart wasn’t beating for more than 45 minutes.”
In a phone interview with The Seattle Times, Knapinski explained that he was out snowshoeing in the national park, and planned to meet a friend, who was skiing, at a rendezvous point before nightfall.
“I was pretty close to the end [of the trail],” Knapinski told The Seattle Times. “Then it turned to whiteout conditions, and I couldn’t see anything.”
“I’m not sure what happened. I think I fell,” he recalled.
The Associated Press reports:
Three National Park Service teams searched for Knapinski until early the next morning, when winter conditions minimized visibility and temperatures dropped to 16 degrees Fahrenheit, the park said. Later that morning, teams returned to their search.
A Navy helicopter team from Whidbey Island began searching in the afternoon when the weather cleared and spotted him in the Nisqually River drainage.
According to The Seattle Times, Knapinski was still in the hospital as of Friday evening but said he was looking forward to getting back to doing volunteer work, both with the Salvation Army food bank and his local church, which builds houses for foster children.
“And as soon as I get physically able, that’s going to be my calling in life,” he said.
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