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Triathletes come to aid of heart attack victim

CASS LAKE - A Walker man is alive today because his fellow triathletes' actions.

Larry Kimball was competing Saturday in the second leg of the Chippewa Triathlon - a 29-mile mountain bike trail - when he apparently suffered a heart attack.

Mark Larson recalled that he was about two-thirds through the bike ride when he came upon Kimball, who was unconscious on the trail.

Larson straightened him out and cleaned out his airway, noticing that Kimball was taking a few breaths on his own. He biked back to the watering station, about a quarter-mile to half-mile away, and told officials to call 911.

Coming up upon the watering station was Michael Meehlhause, who recognized Larson as a TrekNorth teacher. Together, they returned to Kimball's side to offer aid.

"I initially thought it was heat exhaustion," Meehlhause said. "It was probably about 90 degrees by then."

By then, Kimball was unresponsive and his lips and fingertips were turning blue, Meehlhause recalled.

Together, Larson, a wilderness first responder, and Meehlhause began doing rescue breathing since Kimball still had a pulse at that point.

Soon joining them was fellow triathlete Robert Saxton, a certified emergency medical technician. Kimball's pulse was getting weaker and Saxton began performing CPR.

"What CPR does is keep oxygen circulating throughout the body, most important, the brain," he said.

About 15-20 minutes later, a Leech Lake tribal officer brought a defibrillator to the watering station, and triathletes ran it out to Saxton at the scene.

The defibrillator analyzed Kimball's heart, judging it to be in ventricular fibrillation, and determined that a shock from the device would be beneficial. It shocked his heart and Kimball's pulse returned.

As EMTs reached the scene, Kimball was taken to an ambulance and then to a helicopter, which flew him to a Fargo, N.D., hospital, where he is said to be recovering.

"The entire rescue was a team effort, and everybody from the triathletes to the first responders, EMTs and flight crew responded brilliantly," Saxton said.

In addition to the initial triathletes who stopped to provide medical aid, including Steve Otto, others stepped in to control traffic, since the emergency occurred on the race path itself. Others also ran messages back and forth to the watering station.

"All of us were in the middle of the race, but everybody who was there stopped to help," Larson said. "Everybody kind of pulled together."

The emergency occurred about 75 yards from a paved road. Larson ran to the road and placed a marker and a helmet there so Leech Lake Ambulance knew where to respond.

"There are certainly worse places to have a medical emergency on that course, and he's fortunate that it occurred fairly near a watering station and a road," Saxton said. "I'm relieved and happy for Larry and his family that everything fell into place on Saturday and that he's recovering."

Kimball could not be reached for comment. A posting on said he was competing in his 16th triathlon and was "conscious, talking and joking" Monday while in Fargo.

The length of time the entire emergency took is unclear, as some estimated about 45 minutes from start to finish, but after it was over, all of those who stopped to help Kimball finished the race.

"This is a good reminder of the importance of knowing CPR and of getting the EMS system into action quickly," said Saxton, who currently is not working on an ambulance crew but has maintained his certification and is volunteering as a first responder to Laporte and Becida areas. "Not all cardiac events will have good outcomes - in fact, most won't - but a call to 911, chest compressions and fast defibrillation are key to patient survival."