Hiker Dies For 45 Minutes And Miraculously Comes Back To Life

There are many stories of people coming back from the dead but this one beats them all.

A hiker lost in a whiteout in a Washington state park “came back from the dead” after his heart stopped for 45 minutes, and is being called an astonishing recovery by doctors.


The incident

Michael Knapinski, 45, had passed away at the Harborview Medical Center’s ER after he was airlifted from Mount Rainier National Park on Nov. 8. Apparently, he had a pulse initially but his heart stopped shortly thereafter said, Dr. Jenelle Badulak. “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.

He was dead for 45 minutes as a medical team administered CPR to him and connected him to extracorporeal membrane oxygenation, or ECMO, machine, that pumps blood to a heart-lung machine that removes carbon dioxide and sends oxygen-filled blood back, she said.


He had been hiking with a friend when the two separated below the Muir Snowfield and planned to meet up later in Paradise, an area about 5,400 feet on the south slope of Mount Ranier. “I was pretty close to the end (of the trail). … Then it turned to whiteout conditions, and I couldn’t see anything,” Knapinski, who made the trek on snowshoes. “I’m not sure what happened. I think I fell.”

After he didn’t show up, his friend reported him missing and three National Park Service teams launched a rescue effort that was hampered by frigid conditions of 16 degrees. Finally, a helicopter found Knapinski in the Nisqually River drainage, where ground teams reached in an hour, and then a Navy chopper flew him to Seattle’s Harborview Medical Center, where he arrived unconscious.

Back from the dead

Two days later doctors restarted his heart, and Knapinski opened his eyes, the first thing he wanted to do was call his family said, Trauma nurse Whitney Holen. “He was crying and they were crying and I’m fairly sure I cried a little bit,” Holen told The Seattle Times. “It was just really special to see someone that we had worked so hard on from start to finish to then wake up that dramatically and that impressively.”


Holen 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.” His kidneys were still not functioning properly and he suffered serious frostbite, but Knapinski is expected to be OK.

“He came back from the dead. … Maybe not medically quite correct, but his heart wasn’t beating for more than 45 minutes,” said Dr. Saman Arbabi, medical director of the surgical intensive-care unit. “It’s amazing.”

Knapinski spends a lot of time volunteering at a Salvation Army Food Bank and building houses for foster children. “And as soon as I get physically able, that’s going to be my calling in life,” he told the paper. “Just helping people. … I’m still just shocked and amazed.” He added: “(The Harborview 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.”


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