Hiker Rescued from Mt. Rainier Miraculously Recovers After His Heart Stops for 45 Minutes in ER

Rachel DeSantis
·4 min read

A Washington state hiker who endured a night stranded in freezing temperatures on Mt. Rainier spent 45 minutes dead in a hospital emergency room before medical teams brought him back to life in a miraculous scientific feat.

Michael Knapinski, 45, was rescued from Mount Rainier National Park on Nov. 8 after a day of hiking with a friend went awry, and he wound up lost in temperatures as cold as 16 degrees, the Seattle Times reported.

Though doctors told the outlet Knapinski died in the emergency room following his rescue, an incredible mix of science and resourcefulness kept his body going enough for him to regain consciousness two days later.

“He came back from the dead,” Dr. Saman Arbabi of Harborview Medical Center told the Times. “Maybe not medically quite correct, but his heart wasn’t beating for more than 45 minutes. It’s amazing.”

Knapinski and a friend went hiking on Nov. 7 and separated just before 2 p.m. so that he could descend on snowshoes while his partner went down on skis, according to a news release from the National Park Service.

Knapinski was reported missing after he failed to show up at the parking lot, and though rescue teams had to call off their initial search due to inclement weather, a helicopter team eventually found him in the Nisqually River drainage the next day, the NPS said.

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“I’m not sure what happened. I think I fell,” Knapinski told the Times, noting that the conditions were “whiteout” and he was unable to see anything.

He was airlifted to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle unconscious, and though he had a pulse upon arrival, he soon went into cardiac arrest, Dr. Jenelle Badulak told the Times.

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“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,” she said.

As he lay dead, medical teams gave Knapinski CPR and hooked him up to an extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) machine, which pumps blood outside of the body, then sends it back in.

“You’re rebooting the most complicated computer in the world: the brain,” Badulak told ABC News. “It shut down. It got cooled on Rainier, and it was completely offline. His heart wasn’t working.”

The doctors’ efforts paid off, and two days later, Knapinski regained consciousness, the Times reported.

ICU trauma nurse Whitney Holen was present for the incredible moment and told the outlet it was an emotional one.

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“He was crying and [his family on the phone] were crying and I’m fairly sure I cried a little bit,” she said. “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.”

Though doctors reportedly expect Knapinski to make a full recovery, he remained hospitalized as of Friday, as his kidneys were still not functioning properly, his heart was struggling to circulate blood and frostbite had burned his skin.

Now with a second chance at life, Knapinski told the Times he plans to dedicate his time to giving back and will continue volunteering for the Salvation Army Food Back in Seattle and building houses for foster children through Overlake Christian Church in Redmond.

“As soon as I get physically able, that’s going to be my calling in life. Just helping people,” he said.

“[The Harborview staff] just didn’t give up on me,” he added of the medical teams who saved his life. “They did one heck of a job at keeping me alive. I’ve got a million people to thank.”