A hiker who was rescued after being lost overnight in a whiteout in Mount Rainier National Park died in the emergency room but was brought back to life after his heart stopped for 45 minutes.
The Seattle Times reports that Michael Knapinski, 45 and from Woodinville, died at Harborview Medical Center after being airlifted off the mountain last Sunday.
He had a pulse when he arrived at the hospital but soon his heart stopped, said Dr Jenelle Badulak, one of the first to start treating him.
“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,” Badulak said.
The medical team repeatedly performed CPR and hooked Knapinksi up to an extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) machine, which pumped blood out of his body into a heart-lung machine that removed carbon dioxide, and then back into the body.
Knapinksi’s heart remained stopped for 45 minutes. After the doctors restarted it, the medical team spent the night beside him to make sure he continued to stabilize.
Two days later, Knapinski woke up. Trauma nurse Whitney Holen was there and said the first thing he wanted was to call his family.
“He was crying and they were crying and I’m fairly sure I cried a little bit,” Holen said.
She added: “It reminded me of this is why we do this. This is why we are doing the long hours, this is why we’re away from our families, this is why we’re here.”
Knapinksi continued to have some trouble with his heart, kidneys and frostbite, but doctors said they believe he’ll be OK.
He had left for a snowy hike with a friend on the morning of 7 November. His friend planned to ski down the mountain to Camp Muir, while Knapinski was going to snowshoe to Paradise.
“I was pretty close to the end [of the trail]. Then it turned to whiteout conditions, and I couldn’t see anything,” Knapinski told the Seattle Times in a phone interview. The last thing he remembered was taking baby steps down the mountain, surrounded by white.
“I’m not sure what happened. I think I fell,” he said, noting bruises and scrapes all over his body.
His friend reported Knapinski missing that evening. Three National Park Service teams searched for Knapinski until early Sunday, when winter conditions minimized visibility and temperatures dropped to 16F (-8.9C), the park said. A Navy helicopter team from Whidbey Island began searching in the afternoon when the weather cleared – it spotted Knapinski in the Nisqually River drainage.
Knapinski said he was still having some cognitive delays, but was generally in good spirits and making improvements. He said he spends a lot of time doing volunteer work at the Salvation Army Food Bank in Seattle and building houses for foster children through Overlake Christian Church in Redmond.
“And as soon as I get physically able, that’s going to be my calling in life,” he said. “Just helping people. I’m still just shocked and amazed.”
He added that the hospital staff “just didn’t give up on me. They did one heck of a job at keeping me alive.”
“I’ve got a million people to thank,” he said.