Lost Hiker Whose Heart Stopped Beating For 45 Minutes ‘Brought Back From Dead’

by : Emily Brown on : 15 Nov 2020 11:13
Lost Hiker Whose Heart Stopped Beating For 45 Minutes 'Brought Back From Dead'Harborview Medical Center/Gary Knapinski/Facebook

A hiker who got lost in freezing, whiteout conditions was brought ‘back from the dead’ after going into cardiac arrest.

Michael Knapinski set out on a hike with a friend last weekend in Mount Rainier National Park, Washington, where they later separated and planned to meet up further on the trail.


Knapinski was nearing the end of the trail when the weather turned to ‘whiteout conditions’, preventing him from seeing his surroundings. He remembers taking baby steps down the mountain, but isn’t sure what happened next.

Mount RainierMount Rainier National Park/Facebook

The 45-year-old, from Woodinville, acknowledged the bruises and scrapes on his body and told The Seattle Times that he thinks he’d fallen.

His friend reported him missing and three National Park Service teams launched a search for Knapinski, continuing their efforts until early Sunday morning when weather conditions minimised visibility and temperatures dropped to 16 degrees Fahrenheit.


They resumed the search later that morning, but it wasn’t until the afternoon that helicopter searchers finally spotted the hiker in the Nisqually River drainage. Ground teams reached him about an hour later and found him unconscious.

A Navy helicopter responded to take Knapinski to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle, and though he had a pulse at first he soon went into cardiac arrest.

Seattle Mountain RescueSeattle Mountain Rescue/Facebook

Dr. Jenelle Badulak, one of the first people to start treating Knapinski, said the 45-year-old died while he was in the emergency room, which gave medics the ‘unique opportunity to try and save his life by basically bypassing his heart and lungs’.


Badulak described the method as ‘the most advanced form of artificial life support that we have in the world’.

Knapinski was hooked up to an extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) machine and repeatedly given CPR. The machine works by pumping blood outside of the body to a heart-lung machine which removes carbon dioxide and sends oxygen-filled blood back to tissues in the body.

The hiker remained dead for 45 minutes, but the doctors’ efforts paid off as they managed to restart his heart. They then spent the entire night at his side, making sure he continued to stabilise.

Facebook plea for missing hikerGary Knapinski/Facebook

Knapinski opened his eyes two days later while being cared for by Whitney Holen, a trauma nurse in Harborview’s intensive care unit. She told The Seattle Times the moment will forever be one of the highlights of her career.

Recalling the emotional moment, Holen said:

He was crying and they were crying and I’m fairly sure I cried a little bit. 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.

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.

Dr. Saman Arbabi, the medical director of Harborview’s surgical intensive care unit, said that Knapinski’s kidneys weren’t functioning properly after the incident; his heart was struggling to circulate blood and his skin was burned from frostbite. However, doctors believe he is going to be okay.

Hiker who died for 45 minutesHarborview Medical Center

Arbabi said:

He came back from the dead. … Maybe not medically quite correct, but his heart wasn’t beating for more than 45 minutes. It’s amazing.

Knapinski previously already spent a lot of his time doing volunteer work, but he said that as soon as he is physically able he’s going to make helping people his ‘calling in life’.

The 45-year-old said he had a ‘million people to thank’ for helping to save his life, and he commended the staff at the hospital for doing ‘one heck of a job at keeping [him] alive’.

Knapinski was still in hospital on Friday night, but he is in good spirits and continues to make improvements.

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Emily Brown

Emily Brown first began delivering important news stories aged just 13, when she launched her career with a paper round. She graduated with a BA Hons in English Language in the Media from Lancaster University, and went on to become a freelance writer and blogger. Emily contributed to The Sunday Times Travel Magazine and Student Problems before becoming a journalist at UNILAD, where she works on breaking news as well as longer form features.

Topics: Life, Now, rescue, seattle, washington


The Seattle Times
  1. The Seattle Times

    ‘He came back from the dead’: Lost Mount Rainier hiker starts to recover after rescue in whiteout conditions