Neither Bob Kempenich nor Mike Hengel should be alive today, much less walking and talking.
Today, the pair visit schools and businesses throughout central Minnesota almost daily. They teach CPR wherever they’re invited.
Both describe themselves as “dead men walking.” Both men literally dropped dead of heart attacks, but lived to tell the tale.
They share their stories every day, so that others will live.
This is the second year that Bob and Mike came to KAHS Jan. 16 to teach tenth-graders how to do CPR. Students practiced CPR on inflatable mannequins. They also got to see how to use an AED (automated electronic defibrilator).
The lessons taught by Bob and Mike will not certify anyone there that day in CPR. But it showed how quick response to a cardiac arrest can save a life. It showed students that they can do it, and that there’s nothing to fear in doing it.
Safety was emphasized. If the victim is in a dangerous spot, like on a busy road or amid live electrical wires, they should be left alone until professionals arrive. (There’s no sense in having two dead bodies instead of one, Mike would say.) But in most cases, bystander CPR is appropriate and life-saving.
Bob was 52 when he died. He had been out clearing snow and ice at the SuperAmerica he manages. He came in and was talking when he suddenly had a blank look, then collapsed. Two of his customers started CPR, and the police who responded had an AED that they used on him. This brought him back to life, but he wasn’t out of the woods yet.
Gold Cross Ambulance took him to St. Cloud Hospital. Bob was the first patient there to receive the cooling protocol now used. It’s called therapeutic hypothermia, and it’s used to rapidly cool the body to 86 degrees; it can spare brain damage and other harm to oxygen-starved tissues after the heart stops beating.
The thing is, St. Cloud Hospital had just received the equipment that morning. They quickly unpacked it and read the instruction manual as Bob and his wife watched and waited.
Bob had surgery, with a stent and an ICD implanted. He spent eight days in the hospital, and it took about 30 days to recuperate before he went back to work.
Now, eight years later, Bob helps teach “bystander CPR” through the St. Cloud Hospital’s outreach program.
Mike died four times in one day. He was 50.
Mike was just waiting for the final sale of his business, a mechanic shop. To help a friend, he was driving truck, making deliveries that day. A delivery in Avon would be his last one. As he handed over the paperwork, he collapsed, dead. No one knew who he was. He lay there 15 minutes, dead, before CPR was started. They worked on him for an hour and a half. An ambulance took him to St. Cloud Hospital; he died twice along the way, and again in the Emergency Room. Needless to say, his chances were pretty dismal. Mike was the 13th patient to use the therapeutic hypothermia protocol at the hospital. He had open-heart surgery, with two bypasses, a valve replacement, and electrical repair to the heart. (The surgeon “guessed” at the problem and was right; only five people had survived that particular heart problem, in his experience.) The surgery took nine and a half hours instead of the planned four or five. Mike also has a pacemaker-defibrilator.
The two men committed to teaching 40,000 individuals to do bystander CPR. They’re over 37,000 so far. They go to schools, churches, book clubs, senior groups, and homes. They’ve taught ushers and even hospital employees (especially those in non-patient care departments).
They’re on a mission.
Cardiac arrest can happen to anyone, of any age, anywhere. And it’s still the number-one cause of death in the United States.
They feel they owe a debt, a debt of gratitude for their lives being saved. And neither has any plan to stop in the near future.
Today, AED (automated electronic defibrilators) are in gyms and churches throughout our area. They are there for YOU to use; first-responders will have their own. Operation is simple: turn it on, and it will talk you through everything. Use CPR and an AED until police or rescue personnel arrive. It can mean life or death.
Bob Kempenich (standing, far left) and Mike Hengel (with hat, among the students) came to Kimball Area High School Thursday morning, Jan. 16, to instruct the tenth-grade class in CPR. They also showed them how to use an AED, if ever they should need to. (Just turn it on, and it will tell you step-by-step what to do.) Staff photo by Jean Doran Matua.