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Man, Flathead rescuers reflect on near-death experience

Erik Sanders
Posted at 4:37 PM, Feb 10, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-11 13:51:14-05

KALISPELL — Three healthcare providers jumped in to save the life of a man who suffered sudden cardiac arrest at a recent ski mountaineering event at Whitefish Mountain Resort.

MTN News talked with the man who nearly lost his life and the healthcare providers who fought to save it.

One week after suffering sudden cardiac arrest 31-year-old Erik Sanders walked out of Kalispell Regional Healthcare.

He was found collapsed on the ground -- with no pulse -- 10 minutes into a high-intensity ski mountaineering race at Whitefish Mountain Resort.

“I generally warm up before events and yeah it gets your body ready for a hard effort and you know, I felt good,” Sanders explained.

Three Kalispell Regional Healthcare providers who were also competing in the race came across Sanders just seconds after he was found collapsed on the ground.

Montana Children’s Hospital Nurse Practitioner Rachel Desimone said they immediately started CPR.

“Tyler, myself, and Pete Heybour kind of rotated through giving CPR, giving rescue breaths, and then holding a pulse,” Desimone recalled.

Following a failed attempt to restart his pulse with an automated external defibrillator, Sanders was loaded into a ski toboggan and taken down a single-track course with all three healthcare providers continuing CPR.

“Erik was in the sled and one of us was straddling him giving him CPR and one of us was straddling his head continuing to give him breaths," Desimone said.

Sanders was rushed into an ambulance at the bottom of the course and given an epinephrine injection...which brought back his pulse after 40 minutes of chest compressions.

“And yeah, the ventilator was being pulled out of my throat and that’s like the first memory I have,” Sanders told MTN News.

It’s believed that Sanders suffered heart arrhythmia during the race which led to his sudden cardiac arrest.

The diagnosis came as a shock to Sanders, who has been competing in ultra-endurance events his entire adult life, “yeah, no stranger to pushing myself in these types of races.”

Sanders was discharged from the hospital exactly one week after his cardiac arrest and was able to reunite with the healthcare providers who saved his life, at the same event that almost took it away.

“Nothing I wanted more than to go up there just to thank all those people that were there and thank them for saving my life. To have all of the emotions, they’re all good to have, it’s how you know you’re alive,” Sanders said.

Once his recovery is finished in Minnesota, Sanders says he would love to move back to Montana and call the Flathead Valley his permanent home.

If all goes well in recovery, Sanders says he may move back to the Flathead Valley as early as next month.