The weather took a turn “to whiteout conditions,” Mr. Knapinski said, adding, “I couldn’t see anything.” The last thing he remembers before losing consciousness is taking small steps down the mountain, the newspaper reported.
“I’m not sure what happened,” he said. “I think I fell.”
The life support machine that the hospital used to treat Mr. Knapinski is known as an ECMO, and it is used sparingly because it requires special training to operate, said Dr. Jenelle Badulak, an intensive care unit doctor at Harborview. It is sometimes used for coronavirus patients with lung function of less than 20 percent who are not improving with a ventilator.
The treatment, however, does not guarantee recovery. But sometimes, she said, it can save a life.
Dr. Johnson, who treated Mr. Knapinski, said that cooler temperatures had been shown to “protect the brain and improve outcomes after cardiac arrest, or when the heart stops.”
“We thought with him being cold, in addition to him being a young and fit guy who was climbing a mountain before this, he was a great candidate for this aggressive treatment,” Dr. Johnson said.
As his organs began to regain function, Mr. Knapinski was taken off the ECMO machine on Tuesday.
That night Dr. Arbabi received a page from Whitney Holen, a trauma nurse in Harborview’s intensive care unit who was caring for Mr. Knapinski. That’s usually a sign of disaster, but Ms. Holen’s voice was full of joy when she reported that “our mountain man” had opened his eyes and was smiling, he said.
About two hours after he was taken off life support, Mr. Knapinski was lying in his hospital bed, seemingly unconscious, Ms. Holen said in an interview. Before she began another round of sedation treatment, she softly said his name.
His eyes sprung open, she said, and tears began streaming down his cheeks. He wiggled his toes and gave a thumbs-up. Unable to talk because of a breathing tube, he mouthed a request to speak with his mother.
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