Michael Knapinski went out for a hike in the snow of Mount Ranier on Saturday, Nov. 7, but he had to come back from a little bit more than he bargained for to get home, reports the Seattle Times. The 45-year-old from Woodinville got lost in whiteout conditions on his return, "and I couldn’t see anything. I’m not sure what happened. I think I fell,” he says. Knapinski was reported missing as temperatures dropped to 16 degrees that night; by the time rescuers found and brought him to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle on Sunday night, he was unconscious though with a pulse. Dr. Jenelle Badulak was there and says Knapinski soon went into cardiac arrest. "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 says.
It wasn't quick: The Times reports that Knapinski's trip to the afterlife lasted at least 45 minutes while Badulak and Co. gave him CPR and an extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) machine—which basically pumps blood outside the body, removes CO2, oxygenates it, and returns it to the body. Two days later, Knapinski woke up. "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," says the trauma nurse who was sitting beside him when he woke. Knapinski says he likes to volunteer with the Salvation Army and a local church that works with foster children. "And as soon as I get physically able, that’s going to be my calling in life," he says. "Just helping people. I’m still just shocked and amazed. (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." (Read more Mount Ranier Natonal Park stories.)