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Technology, prayer join to save a life


Ron Enkelis revived by three congregants after going into cardiac arrest

Shortly following the second worship service Dec. 1 at Grace Baptist Church, congregant Ron Enkelis stood leaning against a pillar in the foyer, feeling perfectly normal.

by: SETH GORDON - Lifesaver -- Former reserve sergeant Ron Enkelis stands next to the automated external defibrillator (AED) device that helped save his life after he went into cardiac arrest Dec. 1 at Grace Baptist Church.For a moment he became dizzy and after just a few seconds the former Newberg-Dundee Police Department reserve sergeant collapsed to the ground, not breathing, his heart no longer beating. He was clinically dead.

If not for a perfect storm of conditions and events, not the least of which were the availability of an automated external defibrillator (AED) several steps away and the actions of the three congregants who stood nearby, Enkelis almost assuredly would have remained dead.

But thanks to Michael Stevens, Toby Carver and Jason Isaac, who used the AED Stevens had pushed to install at the church a few years earlier to revive him before paramedics arrived, Enkelis survived.

“The amazing thing was they said if he had gone into cardiac arrest any place else, any time else, he would have been dead,” Enkelis’ wife, Diana said of the feedback she received from the paramedics and, later, doctors at St. Vincent’s Hospital in Portland.
“But it happened at church 20 feet from an AED unit.”

As it turns out, Enkelis suffers from Long QT Syndrome (LQTS), a condition in which one of the electrical waves charted on a electrocardiogram is elongated, throwing off the precise rhythm in the heart, resulting in arrhythmias that can induce sudden cardiac arrest.

A former Navy chief hospital corpsman with plenty of experience performing CPR and using AEDs, Stephens took the lead treating Enkelis, immediately instructing people to call 9-1-1 and also directing his son to grab the nearby AED. Stephens administered electric shocks from the AED three times, reviving Enkelis twice before paramedics arrived on the scene about 15 minutes later.

The team of paramedics, led by Nathan Christiansen and including second and third caregivers Michael Erwin and Brandon Henry, worked for 22 minutes to stabilize Enkelis, who they believed would not survive being transported in the condition in which they found him. Treatment included administering medication, ventilation and shocking Enkelis’ heart three more times before a pulse was restored and an organized cardiac rhythm was revealed on their heart monitor.

Enkelis regained consciousness for a portion of the time during the ride to St. Vincent’s, but was told afterwards that 33 more shocks were applied at the hospital alone and yet, incredibly, he has emerged relatively unscathed.

After doctors essentially put him into a coma for two days, Enkelis awoke Dec. 3, thinking that only a few hours had passed and that it was still Dec. 1.

Enkelis had surgery to install a defibrillator in his chest Dec. 9 before being discharged the next day. His recovery has gone so well since that he hopes to return to return his job with a Portland HVAC company this week.

“All the doctors at the hospital were calling me the miracle man because they’ve never shocked anybody 33 times and had them live or come back with no brain damage or anything,” Enkelis said. “They said without the AED, CPR would have done nothing because I needed to get the electrical current back in my heart going.”

Newberg Fire Department Division Chief Frank Douglas, who was one of nine department personnel on hand, noted that research has shown that without good CPR and an AED, a person’s chances of survival drop by about 10 percent for every minute that passes.

“The church personnel and their emergency response plan — in the face of a very, very chaotic situation, which was obviously life threatening — they responded with precision,” Douglas said. “It was very impressive.”

In addition to the forethought of installing the AED at the church and the quick work of Stephens, Carver and Isaac, the Enkelis’ both said they believe there were other key details about the situation that made the sequence of life-saving actions, also referred to as the “chain of survival,” possible in the first place.

Among them were that Stephens, who is often out of state performing his job as a helicopter pilot in the construction of power lines, was not supposed to be at the church that day, but had come home early.

Stephen also pointed out that had the service not run long that day, Enkelis might have been driving home or somewhere without access to an AED when the episode occurred.

Lastly, as events unfolded, church members spontaneously gathered in small groups to pray for Enkelis’ life, providing one more confirmation that God’s hand was at work in the way that everything fell into place so serendipitously in order for him to survive.

“I definitely believe God was working through those three men and, with everybody else in the church praying,” Enkelis said. “There’s a purpose that he didn’t allow me to die.”

Interim pastor Rich Hagenbaugh said the event has unified the church in a real way. Enkelis himself said that could be a reason God spared his life, but that he really doesn’t know and is looking forward discovering more.

Another reason could be to spread the word about how crucial AEDs can be in saving lives, and a movement to do so seems to have already begun, as many members of the church have since gone to their employers requesting that the machines be installed at their workplaces.