Todd Van Guilder recently had a close encounter with death, but he’s never felt more fortunate.
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Wanting to wind down from his stressful job as a corrections officer, Todd and a friend made their way to Cuyuna Lakes Mountain Bike Trails in Minnesota. Their ride started off well, but that all changed when Todd took a harsh fall near a ravine.
He was able to sit up, but he began seeing white spots in his vision. Hoping they would go away, he closed his eyes. When he opened them again, the spots turned into a wall of bright white.
“I was wearing a helmet, but when I took the fall on my bike, I landed really hard on my stomach and chest,” he said. “I could hear where my buddy was, but I couldn’t see him. I told him, ‘I think I have a bit of a problem.'”
By the time paramedics arrived, he was struggling to breathe. Todd desperately needed an oxygen tank that was in the ambulance almost 1 mile away, so a police officer at the scene volunteered to get it. His timing couldn’t have been more perfect.
As the officer made his way down the trail, he passed Jesse Coenen, an ER doctor. Without hesitation, Jesse offered to help. When they both returned to the scene, they realized just how grave the situation had become.
Todd was unconscious, and the six paramedics were preparing to intubate him (insert a tube in his throat) to make breathing easier.
“I quickly realized this was a serious situation,” Jesse said. “They told me that the guy had fallen off his bike and that a helicopter had been dispatched. They were helping him to breathe, but it was necessary to make sure that his breathing was adequate.”
Unable to see Todd’s windpipe, paramedics failed to intubate him. Estimating that he only had between 10 and 20 minutes left before Todd passed away, Jesse knew there was only one option left: an emergency tracheostomy.
“Cutting somebody’s neck like this is a rare procedure, even for a doctor,” he said. “I’d done it before on mannequins and a pig cadaver, and I knew by heart how to do it. I’d just hoped I would never have to.”
Thanks to the paramedics having all the equipment needed, like a scalpel, Jesse was able to successfully complete the procedure. Still, he wasn’t feeling very confident about Todd’s survival… making the news that Todd not only survived, but is also doing well, all the more joyous.
At the hospital, Todd was treated for a traumatic brain injury and will be on a soft food diet while his throat heals. But after just 10 days of being monitored, he was released from the hospital and finally headed home to be with his wife and 16-year-old daughter again.
“Miraculously, I had no broken bones,” Todd said. “They don’t know what caused the white spots in my vision or exactly why I couldn’t breathe. But they believe it could be related to the trauma of falling.”
Since Todd was unconscious by the time Jesse arrived, he had yet to meet the man who saved his life. That is, until a local news station, WCCO-TV, set up a surprise Zoom meeting! Todd couldn’t thank him enough.
“I can send you the biggest virtual hug that is known to anybody,” Todd said. “It’s kind of like, you know, when a kid gets a teddy bear and he’s holding the bear so tight, I mean, that’s kind of what it feels like right now.”
Once Todd is able to eat solid food again, he hopes to take Jesse out to dinner. They’ve even planned to bike together next summer!
“I’m obviously extremely fortunate,” Todd said. “What are the odds?”
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