Man brought back to life comes face to face with his rescuers

Atwood Kenjura and Brett Steffens, who assisted in saving Kenjura's life, meet for the first time on Tuesday, Oct. 11, 2016 (KXAN Photo)
Atwood Kenjura and Brett Steffens, who assisted in saving Kenjura's life, meet for the first time on Tuesday, Oct. 11, 2016 (KXAN Photo)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Just over two weeks ago, Atwood Kenjura was walking with his family to the start line of the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure in downtown Austin when he began to feel dizzy.

Kenjura’s daughter was diagnosed with breast cancer eight years ago and is now cancer-free. The race became an annual family tradition. The last thing Kenjura remembers while standing at the start line was putting his arms out, his head down and then lights out.

A bystander went to work performing chest compressions on Kenjura’s lifeless body. “We were at the finish line in our medical tent when we heard the call overhead for the need for a defibrillator at the tent,” St. David’s Medical Center’s Division Director of Outreach Services Brett Steffen — also a registered nurse and paramedic — said. “So we immediately grabbed our gear and made our way to the start line.”

There they found the bystander pumping on the man’s chest and took over CPR. Connecting Kenjura to their defibrillator, they delivered a shock. Crews from Austin-Travis County EMS and the Austin Fire Department arrived and were able to resuscitate him, proving instrumental to the positive outcome. Steffen said it’s critical to have immediate CPR and early defibrillation. Kenjura got both.

Atwood Kenjura and Brett Steffens, who assisted in saving Kenjura's life, meet for the first time on Tuesday, Oct. 11, 2016 (KXAN Photo)
Atwood Kenjura and Brett Steffens, who assisted in saving Kenjura’s life, meet for the first time on Tuesday, Oct. 11, 2016 (KXAN Photo)

Tuesday, just five days after being discharged from St. David’s, he came face to face with some of the people who brought him back to life.

Steffen hugged Kenjura and explained his role in the process. “A lot of times after a resuscitation they don’t survive or they do survive we don’t get to see them ever again. It’s nice to see him doing well,” he said. “We do this all the time at our hospital… To do it outside the hospital and survive is rare.”

Kenjura say he first remembers regaining consciousness where he could talk sometime Monday. “When she told me that basically ‘you died and they brought you back to life’, it was very emotional.”

He says everyone is asking him what’s it like to be on the other side. “I didn’t see any bright lights or anything. My brother has been dead for 11 or 12 years now. I had some encounter with him, not sure what or how, but I mentioned his name. That’s the only thing that was different and strange.”

Kenjura says being anywhere but the race would have been deadly for him. He’s one of the around five percent of people that survive a sudden cardiac arrest due to ventricular fibrillation. If he had been farther away from first responders — at home or the golf course — the outcome would likely have been different. “Needless to say we won’t miss any races in the future.”

To learn more about CPR, as well as where to find and take a CPR course, visit the American Heart Association website here. 

Atwood Kenjura and his family during his hospital stay (Courtesy: Family Photo)
Atwood Kenjura and his family during his hospital stay (Courtesy: Family Photo)

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