Kurt Niederloh didn't finish the 11th annual Run for the Lakes in Nisswa last April. He feels he's just lucky he survived the Brainerd Jaycees event.
The 53-year-old from Hastings had a cardiac arrest during the 10K race, but is alive this Easter partly because of a pair of good Samaritans in running shoes who administered CPR.
"I was dead, so if they hadn't saved me, I would've still made the newspaper ... as an obituary," Niederloh said jokingly.
Nurses Melissa Goble and Kim Hartung were running in last year's event and helped revive him after he collapsed-and plan to run with him again in the same event Saturday, April 27.
"By some definitions, I was dead. I wasn't breathing. I didn't have a heartbeat, so by some definitions, I was clinically dead," Niederloh said. "I'm a religious man, so I'd like to think that God allows us a little bit of-what do you want to call it-a little bit of faith, and good luck and bad luck from time to time, and fortunately he delivered some good luck to me that day."
Niederloh, his wife and family, Goble and Hartung will run in this weekend's Run for the Lakes, which attracts more than 1,500 runners. The proceeds are donated to various nonprofits.
"I've certainly had plenty of people that have questioned my judgment in doing this again, but I have been playing soccer pretty consistently shortly after the cardiac arrest, and I've ran one race since then, so I feel pretty confident that I'm going to do all right," he said.
Dead man running
The husband and father of four is the chief financial officer of a company in Minneapolis who said he participates in two or three races a year and plays soccer twice a week.
"For me, I run for time with the family, so we've got a couple of events that we'd like to do as a family ... an opportunity for us to do something together," Niederloh said.
Niederloh said his paternal grandfather died in his 50s from a heart attack. Niederloh also said, however, he had no heart issues prior to his near-fatal cardiac arrest on April 28. Goble is an advanced-practice nurse as a women's health care nurse practitioner. Hartung, a registered nurse, worked trauma and on the medical-surgical floor.
"I've done lots of CPR. And the first thing I said when I came up to Kurt and Melissa was, 'I'm a nurse,' and she said, 'So am I,' and so it was instant trust between her and I, and we both knew exactly what to do-thank God," Hartung said.
Goble said, "Shortly after I had started CPR, Kim came up and asked if I needed help, and so she started doing mouth-to-mouth and then we alternated CPR and mouth-to-mouth until we were able to get an (automated external defibrillator) from a police officer."
Cardiac arrest is "the abrupt loss of heart function in a person who may or may not have been diagnosed with heart disease," according to the American Heart Association, and "it can come on suddenly or in the wake of other symptoms."
"I was feeling fine," Niederloh said of how he felt shortly before last year's two-day event in Nisswa. "I was feeling fine ... up until, really, the time I woke up in the hospital. I had no idea that there was an issue. I don't remember running the race at all."
His wife Lisa said she is a little bit anxious about him participating in this weekend's Run for the Lakes. The 48-year-old dental hygienist said she partially caught her husband as he went down in last year's race and asked 911 be called when she realized something was wrong.
"He wanted to walk a lot during this run, and he never did that before, and I thought that was strange, but we had about a little more than a mile to go, and I told him-because he wanted to walk again and we had just walked-I said, 'Let's just walk it in,'" she said.
"He said, 'No, that's OK. Let's start running again.' ... And he made it only a few steps and then he stopped and put his hands on his knees-or about to like he needed to catch his breath ... and then he kind of yelled out and fell backwards and hit his head on the pavement."
Heart attacks are caused by a blockage that stops blood flow to the heart, according to the American Heart Association, whereas a cardiac arrest is caused when the heart's electrical system malfunctions and stops beating properly, but a heart attack can cause a cardiac arrest.
"Afterwards, they said I was 95 percent blocked in that artery ... so somehow I had been having a heart attack that eventually resulted in a little bit of an issue with the electrical side, which is a cardiac arrest," Kurt Niederloh said.
Each year in the United States, more than 350,000 cardiac arrests occur outside of a hospital setting, according to the American Heart Association, and a cardiac arrest is often fatal if appropriate steps are not taken immediately.
"The heart attack and cardiac arrest was on a Saturday. I was out of the hospital the following Wednesday. Thursday, I was outside doing yardwork and doing 6-mile walks, so absolutely no side effects that I'm aware of," he said of his brush with death. "It seems so weird, and it seems so long ago, but I'm excited to get out there and run the race again this year, that's for sure, especially to run it with the two women that saved me and my family."
Right place, right time
Goble and Hartung even finished the 11th annual Run for the Lakes in Nisswa last April after stopping to administer first aid to Niederloh, but he hopes they won't have to save his life again.
"We connected pretty quickly afterwards, they found me on Facebook," Niederloh said about the women's heroic efforts to keep him alive. "And we've connected a couple of times, so we met them for some beers one day up north when we were at the cabin."
According to the American Heart Association, most cardiac arrest survivors have some degree of brain injury and impaired consciousness while some remain in a persistent vegetative state.
"I definitely don't want to take things for granted," Lisa Niederloh said. "I feel like this is a miracle because I didn't realize how close-or what the statistics were. He's very lucky to be still with us, and we feel lucky."
Factors during a cardiac arrest that affect a person include time between collapse and start of CPR/defibrillation, quality of CPR/defibrillation and whether the survivor had any neurological function during or immediately after CPR, according to the American Heart Association.
"I noticed somebody on the trail lying down with some people around him ... and when I got up to Kurt, he was blue and purple. ... And so I felt for a pulse and noticed that there was not a pulse, so I rolled him on his back and started CPR immediately," Goble said.
"Once the AED arrived, we hooked him up to that, and I think we shocked him once, but continued CPR until the paramedics got there with an ambulance, probably like-I mean it seems like forever-but honestly it was probably 10 or 15 minutes that we did CPR on him."
Goble, a 35-year-old from Brainerd, is an avid runner who completed the Boston Marathon in 2013, finishing 20 minutes before the explosions. Goble was running the half-marathon in last year's Run for the Lakes, which she completed with Hartung, a 34-year-old Brainerd resident running the 10K.
"Some people say God put these people there. And I don't know if that's the case because there's a lot of people that have this happen, and there's nobody there, and I don't think God didn't put somebody there," Niederloh said. "It's pretty incredible when you think about it.
"It's a matter of luck. These two women happen to be running by just as I collapsed. If they had run a little bit quicker-or if I had run a little bit slower-it possibly would have been a completely different outcome."