We have all heard of near death experiences–individuals who report personal encounters associated with impending death and the feelings associated with this phenomena.
Sarasota native, Greg Goebel, however, has a much more riveting story than a near death experience. He actually died while doing what he enjoys most; running a marathon. Interesting thing is, he has since run 18 marathons following his death in January of 2011. How is this, you may ask?
JANUARY 9, 2011
It was a day like any other for Greg Goebel, father of three beautiful daughters and husband to his lovely wife, Ali. Greg awoke in the early hours of the morning to toe the line at his favorite marathon, the Zoom! Yah! Yah! Indoor Marathon in Northfield, MN. This event is held on an elevated indoor track at St. Olaf College and requires 150 laps to complete the marathon distance of 26.2 miles.
The race began and everything was status quo for Greg as he approached the 1/2 marathon point of the race. Greg was certainly no stranger to the marathon distance; as a matter of fact, he had already completed 48 marathons since his first in February of 2008, including Zoom! Yah! Yah! the previous year!
The lap proceeding Greg’s death, he was having a great time and just happened to be running with the Race Director’s daughter. When he began to feel light headed and “weird”, she mentioned that her father had just put out bananas at the aid station on the opposite side of the track. Instead of taking an immediate detour to the table, for fear of cutting off fellow runners, Greg ran another entire lap.
When he reached the aid station 50 ft. beyond the half marathon distance, he grabbed a banana, took a bite and a drink, and it was then that Greg knew something was not quite right. He reached down to brace himself on the track and woke up 4 1/2 days later. It was in that moment that Greg Gobel, age 56, died and remained dead for approximately 3-4 minutes.
As luck would have it, Dr. Bob Aby was running about half a lap behind Greg and immediately rushed to his side to begin CPR. A nurse, Heather, also in attendance at the event, jumped in to assist Dr. Aby in reviving Greg, who had also aspirated the banana he was eating when he dropped to the ground. Although they were able to restart Greg’s heart, he never regained consciousness until days later. 911 was called and as part of Minneapolis Heart Institute’s Level 1 Heart Program, he was airlifted to Abbott Northwestern Hospital where it was determined that he had suffered from sudden cardiac arrest.
Sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) is defined as a condition in which the heart suddenly and unexpectedly stops beating. If this happens, blood stops flowing to the brain and other vital organs and usually results in death if it’s not treated within minutes. Most instances that are related to cardiac deaths within athletes are a result of SCA. One well known instance of this would be American professional long-distance runner, 28 year old Ryan Shay, who collapsed while participating in the 2007 Olympic Marathon Trials in New York. It was later determined that Shay’s death was linked to SCA due to a cardiac arrhythmia.
Although Greg was technically already in a coma, he was forced into a medically induced coma as doctors put him through what is referred to as the Cool It Protocol. During this protocol, Greg was given paralytics so he was unable to move and then packed in ice to lower his body temperature to between 91 and 92 degrees to preserve the brain. Statistically, only 7% of people who have SCA outside of a hospital will survive. Of that 7%, only 10% of those individuals that do survive will survive with no brain damage. The odds were certainly stacked against Greg.
Miraculously, four and a half days after Greg was airlifted to Abbott Northwestern, he awoke. He hadn’t the slightest idea that he had died and felt no pain whatsoever.
It was a surreal experience. I woke up and felt fine…I had no pain. It was easy for me because I didn’t even know I had died. It was my wife and family who suffered; not really knowing if I was going to live.
The first pain Greg experienced following his death was when doctors immediately decided he needed to have an internally contained defibrillator implanted. He described it as “a pacemaker on steroids” that can shock the heart back into a normal pattern of beating, in turn saving his life if his heart were to ever malfunction again. Due to the fact that Greg did not have a traditional heart attack, there is really no known cause. He didn’t have any blockage and doctors cannot say with 100% accuracy whether it was or was not caused by running. He is, however, very grateful knowing that his physical conditioning at the time was what saved his life. He is certainly aware of his health and views his defibrillator as a “security blanket” that gives him the confidence to continue to run. There is no chance he would task the risk of running without it.
Greg was cleared to run on February 2, 2011; just 3 weeks following his initial episode. Since the incident, Greg has continued running marathons and has complete another 18, including the 2012 Zoom! Yah! Yah! Indoor Marathon, making his all time full marathon total 66 thus far.
These days, when attending races, he wears a sign on his front and back that says “LEARN CPR: It saved my life” in hopes that he can help inspire people and advocate CPR. He has also spoken at American Heart Association Fundraisers and speaks very graciously on behalf of the outstanding doctors who have blessed him with the opportunity to continue to run sensibly for as long as he can. Aside from running, Greg enjoys living, tennis and boating on his vessel named “SECOND CHANCE”!
Greg shared with me that if he had not woken up that day, he felt he had lived a full and wonderful life, but that he was not ready to check out. He also offered the following three pieces of advice:
- If you love or care about someone, tell them loud and tell them often. You never know when that time will come where you may not have the opportunity any longer.
- Learn CPR. You can save someone’s life. How horrible would you feel if the opportunity arose and you could have saved someone but were unable because you didn’t know CPR?
- Don’t will yourself to death. Often times people shut down mentally and give up on life because of illness or circumstances. Although he, personally, doesn’t feel inspiring, he hopes he can inspire others that have faced adversity to persevere. His refuses to live a diminished life and his mindset is that of living each day fully! Each and every time he runs, he feels he is conquering fear with every step.
Congratulations to you, Greg, and may you continue to run many healthy years and marathons to come!