It’s hard to believe Michael Knapinski of Woodinville, Washington, is alive today.
A recent hiking trip gone wrong nearly took the 45-year-old’s life. In fact, it did — for 45 minutes. But thanks to a miracle of modern medicine, he’s still here!
On November 7, Michael and one of his friends braved the snow for a hike in Mount Rainier National Park. Everything was going fine until the two of them parted ways.
Michael snowshoed to the Paradise trail, while his friend skied down to Camp Muir. As Michael was nearing the end of the trail, whiteout conditions began obscuring the path. He tried navigating his way down the mountain, but he believes he took a tumble. That’s when everything went black.
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With no word from Michael, his friend reported him missing. National Park Service teams were quick to come out and comb the area, but they had to stop when conditions worsened the next morning.
It wasn’t until later that afternoon that a Navy helicopter team scoured the mountain and finally spotted Michael at the Nisqually River.
He was immediately airlifted to Harborview Medical Center, but he was in such bad shape that he simply couldn’t hold on. He died in the emergency room — but incredibly, his story didn’t end there!
In addition to performing CPR, Michael’s medical team put him on an extracorporeal membrane oxygenation machine. This innovative form of life support pumps blood out of the body, removes carbon dioxide through a heart-lung machine, and then pumps it back in.
“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,” Dr. Jenelle Badulak explained.
Despite the fact that Michael’s heart stopped beating for 45 minutes, the machine brought him back to life! He woke up two days later, frostbitten with heart and lung issues, but he was alive!
“He was crying, and they were crying, and I’m fairly sure I cried a little bit,” trauma nurse Whitney Holen said. “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.”
While Michael is still recovering, he couldn’t be more grateful to the health care heroes who “just didn’t give up on me. They did one heck of a job at keeping me alive.”
Once he’s feeling well enough, Michael plans to pay it forward by dedicating even more time toward the volunteer work he enjoys. He has a lot to appreciate, after all!
Share this story to thank the amazing medical team that gave Michael a second chance.
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