Kyle Woods, 24, had two coins. One, golden coin that he held in the palm of his hand and another, his first-ever half-marathon medal which he’d earned less than 48 hours before.
“This one for sure,” said the young Colorado Air National Guardsman, looking down at the coin in his hand. “I owe my life to them.”
Kyle had receive a coin, etched with a medic symbol, the Rocky Mountains and the words “UCHealth Paramedics” just moments before from Monique Rose, a UCHealth EMS paramedic and Greg Harding, an EMT. The two were among six emergency responders who saved Kyle’s life just days before.
Giving a commemorative coin is a gesture said to have started among soldiers during the Vietnam War. Today it continues within service organizations to show gratitude, honor bravery or recognize exceptional actions.
The Colorado Half-Marathon
As a national guardsman, Kyle is in good shape, though he doesn’t consider himself a runner. He played football and baseball at Resurrection Christian School in Windsor, where he graduated in 2013. After basic training, he and his friends from the Greeley Air Guard Station began running longer distances to stay in shape. They had recently made a pact to run in next year’s Los Angeles Marathon.
They had been training for months to run the Colorado Half-Marathon, though the farthest Kyle had run was 11 miles. He wasn’t worried about a few more on race day.
The night before the race, he had an early Cinco de Mayo dinner with his grandparents, Jerry and Peggy Moore, who are longtime volunteers at UCHealth Medical Center of the Rockies.
Kyle had steered clear of the margaritas, choosing iced tea instead, so he felt good when he woke up early on May 5, race day.
The event — which includes a Boston Marathon-qualifying race, a half-marathon, and shorter races — starts in the Poudre Canyon on Colorado Highway 14 and finishes in Old Town Fort Collins. Kyle chose to run a half marathon.
The finish line
“At about 12 miles I started to get tired,” Kyle recalled.
His group decided to walk for a bit, but when they saw the finish line ahead, they pushed through to the end. As Kyle ran across the finish line, he gave his parents, Paul and Jennifer Woods, and his twin brother, Jake, high-fives.
“(Jennifer and I) both thought he looked a little pale,” Paul said.
A few minutes later, Kyle’s friend rushed up to Paul and Jennifer to tell them Kyle had passed out.
“I wish I could scrub my mind of him there on that pavement,” Paul said. “You just don’t see your kids having to ever go through anything like that. You can’t imagine them going through anything like that.”
Help in seconds
Within seconds of Kyle collapsing on the street, emergency responders from UCHealth EMS and Poudre Fire Authority were at his side performing CPR.
In cardiac arrest, the heart stops sending blood to the body and brain, either because it is beating too fast and too erratically, or because it has stopped beating altogether. Oxygen-starved brain cells start to die, and death can occur within minutes.
“When people arrest, the time it takes to get them resuscitated is everything,” said Dr. Eric Riles, an electrophysiologist with UCHealth Heart and Vascular Center in northern Colorado and Kyle’s doctor. “This is a reminder that CPR training is essential, as even a delay in several minutes can change everything.”
Saving his life
Rose said the team, which included herself, Harding, UCHealth EMS’ paramedic George Solomon and EMTs Adam Colclough and Tim Gaines, as well as PFA’s Kevin Waters, spent approximately 12 minutes working on Kyle. This included one failed attempt to shock his heart back into rhythm using a defibrillator before a successful second shock.
“Kyle was very fortunate,” Rose said. “The longer someone is down without CPR, the less chance they have of surviving.”
Although 12 minutes seemed like an eternity to Kyle’s family, who were watching, Rose said, that amount of time for resuscitation is not unusual.
In the U.S., more than 350,000 cardiac arrests occur outside the hospital each year, according to the American Heart Association. UCHealth EMS responds to cardiac arrest calls about three to four times a week, and may work on a patient for 20 to 40 minutes sometimes, Rose said.
“If a bystander can start CPR, that’s all that’s needed for the first few minutes until we can get there,” she said.
According to the AHA, about 90 percent of people who experience an out-of-hospital cardiac arrest die. But when CPR is performed by a bystander, about half survive.
“It was so surreal standing there watching them work on him,” Paul said. “I kept praying, ‘God, don’t take him.’”
“I’m just so glad they didn’t give up,” Jennifer added. “They just kept working on him.”
Kyle was taken to UCHealth Poudre Valley Hospital, and the next day he was transferred to MCR for further evaluation. Doctors are unsure what caused Kyle’s heart to go out of rhythm. Before leaving the hospital, he had a cardiac defibrillator surgically implanted that will monitor his heart, shocking it back into the proper rhythm if ever again necessary. It shouldn’t affect Kyle’s desires to continue to train and race.
“Kyle is otherwise very healthy and active,” Riles said. “We wanted to rule out anything genetic or congenital. Given his age, this is not your normal heart-disease issues.”
Riles did say that anyone — athlete or not — who is experiencing unusual light-headedness, dizziness or chest pains needs to get checked out. What he didn’t want to do is cause fear in runners.
“This is not something that’s going to happen to the average runner,” he added. “Instead, the message here is when people do arrest, time is everything. It’s a reminder that CPR training is essential.”
As Kyle stood there in the hospital lobby wearing running shoes and shorts, the white cords of his cardiac-monitor devices mostly hidden by his black hoodie, he had a big smile on his face. There was no doubt from Kyle, nor from those who surrounded him — his parents, grandparents, guardsmen superiors, EMS and his doctor — that Kyle survived cardiac arrest because he was in the right place at the right time — and with the right people.
“They definitely saved my life,” he said. “If it wasn’t for them, I would not be here.”