How do you thank someone – or a group of someones – for saving your life?
Denny Kjarland of Zearing said you say, "Thank you" often and give lots of what he calls "man hugs."
And then, you fully enjoy a moment like last Friday when that group of guys is honored in front of a crowd of 450 people for what they did for you. Kjarland and his wife, Nina, were present at the American Red Cross’s 2013 Heroes of the Heartland event in Des Moines, which honored 16 extraordinary Iowans, including the six men primarily responsible for saving his life on July 12, 2012.
While not all six men could be present for the event, several did travel to Des Moines and accept the award, which was bestowed upon area residents, Dave McCaulley, Ryan Brown, Matt Myers, Ben Weir, Doug Bates and Rob Bacon, six men who found themselves in a situation where they could make a difference last July 12, and they did.
Kjarland said he was golfing in league that day, and even though he took part in most of the round he was playing, he doesn’t remember anything from the point where he grabbed his clubs to play. "I golfed seven holes and don’t even remember that," he said.
But McCaulley and the other five guys involved in saving Kjarland’s life that day, will probably never forget any of it.
"We were on a six-men team that night," McCaulley said, which was an unusual number to be paired with. Kjarland wasn’t a regular member of the team, but was asked to join in to make numbers work that night as Ryan Brown’s father-in-law was running late, and Denny was about to leave.
This league uses shotgun starts, so this team of six had played seven holes by the time they got to the tee box for the fifth hole. That tee box is located near the clubhouse.
"All but one of us had teed off, and Ryan was in a cart with Denny, and he yelled that he needed some help."
McCaulley said Kjarland looked to be having seizures, but there was no pulse, so immediately, his partners began CPR, with McCaulley doing chest compressions; Ben, Ryan and Rob helping with ventilation; Doug making the call for help, and Matt Myers – who wasn’t part of their golf group – running over from another group and taking over chest compressions for McCaulley. McCaulley estimates they worked on Kjarland for around 14 minutes until emergency help arrived.
And as they watched him taken away, and heard that he had been air-lifted by medical helicopter to Des Moines, "we thought he probably wouldn’t make it," McCaulley said.
But eventually the news came back to the clubhouse – Kjarland, 69 at the time and 70 now – was alive. He’d made it through a surgery.
"We were all very skeptical when the EMT and ambulance took him away that night, but we were extremely relieved and emotional that night to know that what we did saved a life," said Brown.
The event happened on a Thursday, around 5 p.m., and it wasn’t until Sunday evening that Kjarland really came to. He said he doesn’t remember feeling odd earlier on the day of his heart attack. He doesn’t remember arm pain or chest pain. But when he woke up that Sunday evening, he knew something had happened, because he was in desperate pain from broken ribs and an injured spleen.
"Whenever I coughed, I had to put a pillow over my chest, because of the broken ribs and … the pain in my spleen," he said, "I’ve never had that kind of pain in my life."
Jokingly, Kjarland said, "I thought about all kinds of things I was going to call them for breaking my ribs and rupturing my spleen, but all I could do when I got back and saw them was give them a man hug and thank them. It’s just unreal … to think back that I was laying on that tee box with no pulse."
McCaulley said he felt bad about causing the injuries to Kjarland’s ribs and spleen, but also knows from CPR training that it often happens in those lifesaving moments.
To this day, McCaulley and the others think about how unbelievable it was that so many things happened that day that led to saving Kjarland’s life. First is that he joined a group of men, all of whom at some point in time had been trained to do CPR. Kjarland said if he’d been with his regular group, he doesn’t think they would have known CPR.
"I am forever thankful that everyone in our group had been trained in CPR at some point in their lives - many multiple times. Althought we may not have followed the most recent CPR protocol when it came to breathing and chest compressions, the most important thing is that we did what we knew was best."
Second is that they were near the clubhouse, which made it easier to make calls for help and get an ambulance to him. Third is that they were golfing in a six-men group – which is really odd, but on that day provided the manpower needed to perform lifesaving efforts.
Ryan Brown said he’d never met Denny before that night, "but I believe God put him in our group for a reason. Had Denny gone home that evening, perhaps the events of the evening might have turned out differently," Brown said.
As nice as it was to be honored last Friday, McCaulley said he and the others don’t feel like heroes. Their story was called into the American Red Cross by Nevada resident Karen Gunderson, a friend of the Kjarlands, he said.
"We just did what anybody else would do … Our reward now is standing with a guy we get to play golf with again," McCaulley said.
McCaulley, like Kjarland, now feels a special bond and has to give a man hug nearly every time he sees him.
Kjarland is back to doing all the things he loves to do, which includes golfing at Indian Creek Country Club, where he is also a groundskeeper, something else he dearly loves. "I’m out there with not a care in the world," he said.
When he’s not busy at the golf course, Kjarland also does odd jobs at the place where he retired from, Mosiac (formerly Krysilis) in Nevada. He worked maintenance there for 14 years and continues to help them with projects, like painting.
Over the past year, Kjarland said he’s wondered many times what he could do for this group of men who saved his life, but didn’t know exactly what to do. The award ceremony that honored them as Heroes of the Heartland meant everything to him. "When they were up there on stage getting their award, I had to fight back tears, because I appreciate those guys so much and they got recognized like they should of."
McCaulley said what he hopes most about this story is that it brings attention to people about the importance of CPR training. "People ought to be trained, because you never know when you’re going to need it.
"I guarantee when we teed it up that day … not one of us had planned on using it."