One minute, Kyle Woods was exchanging high-fives with his parents as he approached the end of his first half-marathon.
The next, the seemingly healthy 24-year-old was laying on the asphalt in full cardiac arrest — unconscious and unresponsive while EMTs, paramedics and a firefighter worked frantically to revive him.
For 12 minutes, they took turns performing chest compressions, holding an oxygen mask over his mouth and nose and checking the rhythm of his heartbeat on a monitor attached to a defibrillator. They sent electric shocks through the defibrillator twice in an effort to get his heart beating properly again.
“It was a nightmare,” Woods’ mother, Jennifer, said. “We just couldn’t believe it was happening.”
Woods was alive and surprisingly well Tuesday, when he met two of the six emergency workers who helped revive him following Sunday’s Colorado Half-Marathon. He was walking and talking and thrilled to be able to thank UCHealth paramedic Monique Rose and EMT Greg Harding in person.
“I owe my life to them,” Woods said. “They definitely saved my life. … If it wasn’t for them, I would not be here.”
Woods was speaking from the waiting area on the third floor of the Medical Center of the Rockies in Loveland, where he was undergoing a battery of tests to help doctors determine what caused his heart to suddenly start beating abnormally seconds after he crossed the finish line.
Woods, who was running the half-marathon with a friend he had been training with, said he started getting tired around mile 12 of the 13.1-mile race.
“We started walking a little towards the end, saw the finish line, and that kind of gave us a boost; we were there,” Woods said. “So, we pushed ourselves to the finish.
“I remember crossing the finish line, grabbing my medal (from a volunteer handing them out), and then I remember seeing my vision kind of go black. I was starting to get tunnel vision, so I sat down.
“That’s the last memory I have. The next thing I remember is seeing them putting me in the back of an ambulance, being strapped down with a bunch of things here and there like sensors. I really had no idea what was happening. I was scared.”
Two days later, doctors were still trying to solve the mystery of how a seemingly healthy and fit 24-year-old and member of the Colorado Air National Guard with no history of heart trouble could go into sudden cardiac arrest.
But they were also celebrating the fact that he had survived the experience. Had he been two or three miles from the finish line, it would have taken emergency workers several minutes, rather than seconds, to get to him and start performing chest compressions, Rose and Harding said.
They were part of a UCHealth medical team stationed at the finish line to handle just such a medical emergency throughout the race, which also included a full 26.2-mile marathon and both 5- and 10-kilometer runs.
As soon as they saw Woods go down, they jumped into action, along with paramedic George Solomon, EMT Adam Colclough, reserve EMT Tim Gaines and Kevin Waters, a Poudre Fire Authority battalion chief and firefighter.
Dr. J. Bradley Oldemeyer, a cardiology specialist at UCHealth who had just finished running the half-marathon, pitched in to help and called ahead to Dr. Eric Riles, a another UCHealth cardiologist who was working that day at Poudre Valley Hospital, to share what he knew about the patient’s condition while the ambulance was transporting Woods to the emergency room.
“His success is 100% related to the fact that he got CPR immediately,” Riles said. “We see that over and over again. People that get resuscitated after a cardiac arrest early do amazingly well, and people that wait even several minutes don’t have the same outcome.”
Rose, who has been a paramedic for 12 years, said she is involved in about 15 calls a month in which a patient has gone into cardiac arrest and requires CPR. Many of them ultimately survive the ordeal, she said, but they usually remain unconscious until after they arrive at the hospital. Woods is the first patient she has performed CPR on who has regained consciousness at the scene.
“I’m fairly humbled by the situation,” Rose said. “It doesn’t happen very often. We’re grateful to be able to see him and talk to him.”
Woods was transferred Monday from PVH to UCHealth’s Medical Center of the Rockies in Loveland, where he remained under Riles’ care. He underwent an echocardiogram Monday and a 90-minute MRI and hourlong CT scan Tuesday.
“People in his age group, it’s obviously more unusual than it would be someone who’s in an older age group, and so the common things like coronary artery disease and things like that are just not applicable for him,” Riles said. “So, we really start to look for any kind of congenital abnormality or genetic defects that could be the cause of this.
“… We had all these tests done today, and we just have to wait for the results to come in.”
Woods has no obvious lingering effects from the experience other than soreness from the chest compressions he received. He walked to and from his hospital room on the third floor to his tests Tuesday and was wearing gym shorts and a hoodie when he and his family met with Rose, Harding and three reporters in the waiting area.
Woods still doesn’t know why his heart started beating abnormally, preventing oxygenated blood from reaching his brain, lungs and other organs and causing him to lose consciousness. He just feels “extremely fortunate, extremely blessed” to have survived the ordeal.
“I never would have thought, in a thousand years, this would ever happen to me, and here I am on the other side, fortunate enough to speak about it,” he said. “It’s something that I’ll always remember for the rest of my life.”
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