Pierz man brought back 26 minutes after dying
By Jennie Zeitler
As far as Greg Hyatt knew, he was just driving along on rural roads around Pierz on a Tuesday afternoon in January, keeping his two youngest grandchildren happy until it was time to pick up the older grandchildren getting off the school bus. The next thing he remembers is waking up in the hospital with family members looking at him.
“My first thought was, ‘What just happened to me and where am I,’” he said.
What took place during the time he can’t remember is a series of events that everyone involved can only describe as miraculous. Greg died and was brought back to life.
“I didn’t have a heart attack, since there were no blockages. It was a sudden cardiac arrest. There is no physical explanation for it,” said Greg.
The events of that afternoon started with Greg leaving early to pick up the grandkids. When the cardiac arrest happened, he wasn’t home alone with no one old enough to know how to call for help. Instead, Teague Eischens was driving on the same rural road three miles out of Pierz and saw a cloud of snow in the ditch. When he saw the car, he called 911. Sheriff’s Deputy Dan Rocheleau and Police Chief Erik Hanneken were the first responders on the scene.
“Erik saw that Greg was blue and yelled for Teague to help get him out of the car,” said Greg’s wife, Kathy.
Kathy was at work when her phone rang. She usually doesn’t answer a call she doesn’t recognize, but this call she did. It was Hanneken, asking about who could come pick up the grandchildren. Then he added that they were “doing CPR on Greg.”
Kathy called their son Gene, who “never answers the phone” – but he did. Gene went to pick up the kids. In the meantime, Kathy realized that the responders wouldn’t know that Greg is unable to breathe while lying on his back, due to COPD. She called Gene and asked him to tell the responders.
Kathy next called son Joe – and he answered the phone. He came to pick up Kathy from work in St. Cloud and they met Greg at the hospital. While they were in the car, Hanneken called again to let them know that Greg had been resuscitated and was being airlifted to St. Cloud.
“It took more than 26 minutes for Greg to be resuscitated, to be stabilized,” Kathy said. “Every time they had a heartbeat, it would stop after a few beats because he couldn’t breathe.”
Once Greg was intubated and was receiving oxygen, things looked up pretty quickly.
Kathy called son Adam next -- to join her in the hospital. He also answered his phone, which he never does. He ran out of work in Alexandria and nearly flew to St. Cloud.
“(Sheriff) Shawn Larsen had called (Pastor) Nate (Bjorge) and Nate was there at the hospital,” Kathy remembered. “We sat there for a long time while Greg was having tests.”
The doctor finally came to report that Greg had a lot of broken ribs, a crushed sternum and a collapsed lung.
“He said that ‘if Greg woke up’ they wouldn’t know how much brain damage there might be,” Kathy said. “They were expecting brain damage.”
Kathy and Adam were able to visit Greg in the trauma bay in the emergency room. He was then transferred to the ICU.
The family learned more about Greg’s circumstances during the emergency. They found out that often a cooling protocol is done for patients in Greg’s situation to reduce their temperature to 95 degrees, to limit brain damage. It was too late by the time Greg got to the hospital, but since he had been lying on the snow for so long, his temperature was down to 94 degrees.
Greg had been driving only 40-45 miles per hour, so when he went into the ditch, neither he nor the grandkids was injured by the impact.
Looking back, Greg knows that he “never felt any fear at any time.” He was fully alert and engaged by Wednesday morning, and wanting to communicate. He was given a clipboard and a pencil and his first messages were to his family, about trusting God.
“I remember thinking that I don’t want my family to blame God and be angry at God,” said Greg.
As soon as he was extubated, Greg started talking right away. Doctors and nurses were not expecting that.
The astonishing news of his quick recovery spread. Kathy got a phone call from Hanneken asking about Greg’s condition. When she explained to him that Greg was “sitting in a chair, talking” there was absolute silence on the phone.
“I heard later from someone who was in the room with him, that he almost fell out of his chair,” Kathy said.
Nate Bjorge was with Greg Wednesday morning and was telling him that doctors had been concerned about brain damage.
Greg shot back with his customary self-deprecating humor, “How would they be able to tell?”
The first time Bjorge met Greg was about 14 years ago.
“You don’t typically see a big rugged-looking guy like Greg at a Bible study. I soon discovered that although he had an intimidating exterior, he had a huge heart for God and a love for people. He is more knowledgeable of the Bible than many pastors that I’ve known. He has been very active in our congregation leading Bible Studies and often filling in for me preaching and leading worship,” said Bjorge. “Greg is not shy about sharing his faith and love for Jesus and you could not ask for a better friend. This is why when I received the call that Greg had been in an accident - that his heart had stopped - it felt like my own heart was going to stop. My immediate reaction was to start praying. Not only did Greg survive but even more miraculously, he made a full recovery.”
As people related more stories to Greg and Kathy about the accident, they continued to hear more eyebrow-raising details. Hanneken told them that there had been no crying, no fussing and no fighting between the two little kids in the back of his patrol car, while they had been waiting to be picked up at the scene.
“Erik told us that most kids would have been scared and screaming,” Kathy said.
At one point, one of the doctors told Greg and Kathy, “We can’t explain this – it has to be a miracle.”
“All the nurses and most of the doctors said similar things,” said Kathy.
If Greg had died that afternoon, he knows he was ready. Living a life that honors God, a life of integrity, is the most important thing for him.
Greg finds himself saying “thank you” to God even more often now. Gratitude rises when he’s watching his grandchildren play, getting hugs from them, being out in the woods in God’s creation, even being in his bulldozer moving dirt.
“I’m glad that I have a job that I love and am skilled at,” he said.
“God gave Greg back to his family and to all of us who know and love him. God is not done with him yet,” said Bjorge. “By the grace of God, Greg will continue to share the love of Jesus as long as his heart continues to beat in his passion for his Lord and Savior.”
Hearing that the life expectancy of someone experiencing a sudden cardiac arrest is only a matter of weeks, he said, “I always thought I was wired differently! I’m okay with this; I have no problem thinking that God made this happen. God uses everything. He brought me back for a reason – to honor him and glorify him in all the ways he calls me to.”