‘Miracle Man:’ La Crosse man survives heart attack on waterskis

'Miracle Man:' La Crosse man survives heart attack

Since he was just 8 years old, Brian Kanable of La Crosse has been a waterskier. “I love it. I love the sport.”

Now 53 years old, he’s found a new way to enjoy it. It started after a friend approached him at church one Sunday about 15 years ago.

“He’s like ‘hey, you waterski?’ I said yeah, love waterskiing and he said we get together in the morning and we ski at 6 o’clock in the morning.”

Almost every weekday since, bright and early during the summer months, you’ll find Brian and two others carving water out on the Black River.

“One spotter, one driver, we’re all safety conscious, do what we want to do and we do at least 3 runs a morning,” said Brian.

Aug. 25th of this year started out like any other morning.

“I started skiing that morning first because I was actually fasted and supposed to have a physical that morning, ironically. Jumped in the water and started skiing and got down to the interstate bridge. John said to Ken, there’s something wrong, he doesn’t look right in his face and we skied so long we know what each one looks like. As soon as he said that, then I just basically relaxed and let go of the handle and was in the water.”

With his life jacket still on, Brian was floating face down in the river.

Brian said, “John was spotter, he was fully in a vest, easy, fast to jump in the water, got back to me and was able to then turn me over, get my face up so I could not be sucking in any more water. Loaded me in with the ski on, they knew time was a factor.”

Calling 911 from the boat, they raced toward shore. Brian was lifeless and turning blue. He was having a massive heart attack. Paramedics from Tri-state Ambulance were waiting at the dock.

“They were able to instantaneously start compressions on me, being able to give me the drugs you need to get your heart back and shock me 4 times.”

Rescuers were able to get a pulse and blood pressure, but time was not on their side.

“When he came to us, he did have a pulse, which is good, but he was very unstable meaning his heart rate and blood pressure were all over the place,” said Dr. Christopher Deyo, an intensivist at Mayo Clinic Health System in La Crosse.

Brian’s wife Julie got a call at home from a police officer.

Since he’d been fasting and I know his side of the family has this tendency to just faint, I didn’t really thing too much of it and I thought I better get down there. Well, when I got there, that was a whole different story to try to deal with emotionally,” said Julie.

Because of something called STEMI fast-track protocol, Brian was able to go almost immediately into the cardiac cath lab at Mayo Clinic Health System where Cardiologist Charles Cagin and his team were already assembled and waiting to clear the clogged arteries in Brian’s heart and minimize damage.

“Time is heart, the longer you wait, the worse things get,” said Dr. Cagin. “He had multiple blocked arteries and multiple coronary distributions and he was a very sick man.”

Brian said, “The first day I came in, they did 5 stents, a lot of blockage in my heart.”

Doctors were able to open up his arteries and stabalize him, but he was nowhere near being out of the woods.

“He actually was dead at least once and that was when he was in the water. If you consider death, not having a pulse, he didn’t have a pulse. Collapsing in the water in the middle of the Mississippi complicates things. He had other organ damage, specifically to his lungs and to his kidneys that he might have had otherwise,” said Dr. Deyo.

Brian was in an induced coma for about two weeks. It was touch and go.

“It was very much an emotional rollercoaster,” said Julie.

When he finally woke up, he didn’t remember anything all the way back to 9 days before his heart attack.

“Where the heck am I? How do you go from watersking in the Black River to laying in an intensive care unit for this many days,” said Brian.

“From the time I had the heart attack on the 25th, where I could actually recognize someone totally, it was 2 solid weeks.”

Nearly two weeks after the first 5 stents, doctors had to put in another 5. “He’s the proud owner of 10 stents,” said Julie.

But remarkably, after 16 days in intensive care, he walked away with only some temporary cognitive delays.

“I think that’s why they call me Miracle man, because I didn’t have heart damage, muscle damage, from where I am mentally, I’m going to get back to where I was, which is pretty amazing considering what happened,” said Brian.

Even the nurses and doctors who treated Brian couldn’t believe their eyes when he returned to the hospital a healed man.

“When I saw him, he came by to say hi to me and I couldn’t believe it was him, I had to look at him twice and I was like ‘is that really you Brian?’ and he’s like yup,” said Dr. Deyo.

Registered Nurse Jason Augenstein said, “Truly, he’s amazing. I think he’s inspiring for us, a lot of times you want to count people out and think there’s no way somebody’s going to come back from this and then you’ve got a guy like him that comes walking in, it’s inspiring.”

Brian is now undergoing cardiac rehab to get back his heart strength and proving once again that nothing’s going to keep him down.

“They told Julie typically like 5% is what wil come back and be like I am to this level.”

“A lot of people knew their job , they knew what to do and they did everything they could to save him and I will be eternally grateful,” said Julie.

“Anybody who has something traumatic like this, the best thing you can have with medicine is a positive attitude. Not only does it help yourself and your body, but it helps everyone around you,” said Brian.

“I’m ready to go.”

Brian was in good shape and didn’t have any of the typical warning signs of a heart attack. He says a strong family history of heart problems contributed to his heart attack.