Erik Sanders

One man says he is lucky to be alive after he went into cardiac arrest while competing in a ski mountaineering race in whitefish.

More than a month after the incident Erik Sanders still has trouble remembering exactly what happened that day on the mountain.

"I don't remember signing up for the race, I don't remember starting, my closest memory is just driving up to the ski hill," Erik Sanders said.

Sanders is no stranger to the great outdoors, from hiking to skiing, he has done it all. So on January 6th, this race was supposed to be just another adventure.

"I felt just like I have before every other skimo race I have done before, but for whatever reason it was the day for me, and luckily I had those medical professionals right there," Sanders said.

Sanders collapsed about 10 minuets into the race. Moments after he hit the ground in a wooded part of the trail, nurse practitioner from Kalispell Regional Healthcare, Rachel Desimone, found him.

"I came upon a girl standing on the side of the trail and Erik down on the trail. The girl on the side said 'I just came upon him and I don't know what to do!' So, I knelt down and tried to get a response out of him and I couldn’t find a pulse so I told her to go get some help," Desimone said.

Soon, two more doctors from KRH, Tyler Hoppes and Peter Heybour, skied up and the trio immediately started CPR. About 15 minuets later, ski patrol arrived with an AED, but even after getting shocked, Sanders still didn’t have a pulse. So the crew loaded him onto a toboggan and they started the trek down the mountain, never stopping CPR.

"Erik was on the sled and I was straddling his head giving rescue breathes," Desimone said, "Pete and Tyler were alternating chest compressions on the sled as we were skating out of the woods. To stay on the sled and give compressions while moving is near impossible but somehow we were able to do it."

But the challenges didn’t end when they got out of the woods, they still had to get down the rest of the mountain.

"We had gotten out to the main run and it wasn't groomed yet and it had a bunch of moguls on it. I was doing chest compressions and I actually got bucked off when the toboggan went over one," Peter Heybour said, "Then Tyler took kind of a running leap and jumped on top of Erik to continue CPR because he knew how important it was to continue circulating the blood."

Forty minuets after they started CPR they were able to load Sanders into an ambulance, and that’s when realty started to sink in.

"A couple things were going through my head and one was this likely wasn’t going to have a great outcome," Heybour said.

"I totally broke down," Desimone said, "You loose that adrenalin and I just thought that was futile, there is no way that Erik will do well. And at that point I didn't even know his name."

Though the situation looked grim, Heybour said Sanders had three things going for him.

"I though, this is a young person, this is a fit person, and it is cold outside. So, he had those advantages but I still couldn't shake the doubt," Heybour said.

Even with those doubts, Sanders started to make a recovery.

"I woke up in the hospital when the ventilator was being pulled out of my throat, I kind of figured something had happened up at the race but didn’t know what. My memory was still really poor," Sanders said.

Over the next few days sanders regained his short term memory. He eventually went back to Minnesota to recover close to family. A month after the incident Sanders is feeling much better and is grateful to those who got him off the mountain and for his family helping him heal.

"They have really helped me move forward with my life and not get bogged down and just try to move forward from here," Sanders said.

When asked if that path forward includes skiing, Sanders smiled broadly and said, "Of course, I’m not going to give that up, that's for sure."

In fact Sanders and his girlfriend are planning to move to Kalispell soon.