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Man Flew Off Bike in Woods and Needed Lifesaving Surgery, ER Doctor Happens to be Cycling Nearby

On Sept. 12, Todd Van Guilder was riding his bike along the Cuyuna Lakes Mountain Bike Trails in central Minnesota when he flew off and landed on the ground. He sat up and immediately had white spots in his vision, which turned into a solid wall of bright white light. 

“My buddy who had been riding in front of me came back and asked, ‘Are you OK?’” said Van Guilder, a regular mountain biker from Eagan, Minnesota. “I was wearing a helmet, but when I took the fall on my bike, I landed really hard on my stomach and chest,” Van Guilder said. “I could hear where my buddy was, but I couldn’t see him. I told him, ‘I think I have a bit of a problem.’”

His friend called 911, and paramedics arrived to find Van Guilder struggling to breathe. The six medics realized they would need a tank of oxygen from the ambulance in the parking lot almost a mile away. A police officer on the scene volunteered to jog down and retrieve the tank.

As the officer jogged away, an emergency room doctor, Jesse Coenen, passed the officer running down the trail. The 38-year-old doctor from Hayward, Wisconsin learned what was going on and offered to help. The pair hurried down the trail to get the tank. 

By the time they got back to the scene, Van Guilder was unconscious and the medics were preparing to intubate him to make it easier to breathe.

Coenen processed what was happening and told the medics he was an ER doctor. “I quickly realized this was a serious situation,” said Coenen, who works at Hayward Area Memorial Hospital. “They told me that the guy had fallen off his bike and that a helicopter had been dispatched. They were helping him to breathe, but it was necessary to make sure that his breathing was adequate.”

The intubation failed because they were unable to see the windpipe, so Coenen knew there was only one option left to save Van Guilder’s life: an emergency tracheotomy. 

“His oxygen level had started to drop, and I was getting concerned,” the doctor said. “I figured he might have anywhere between 10 and 20 minutes before he died. That’s when I decided to enter the windpipe through the neck.”

The tracheotomy was a success and Van Guilder’s oxygen levels began to rise, so the paramedics were then able to safely transport him to the ambulance. Van Guilder spent ten days in the hospital before being released to go home to his wife and teenage daughter.

“Miraculously, I had no broken bones,” Van Guilder said. “They don’t know what caused the white spots in my vision or exactly why I couldn’t breathe. But they believe it could be related to the trauma of falling.”

Once Van Guilder’s scars heal and he is off of his soft food diet, he hopes to take Coenen out to dinner. “I’m obviously extremely fortunate,” said Van Guilder. “What are the odds?”

Image source: The Washington Post

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