TWIN FALLS, Idaho (KLIX) – When Mike and Cindy Jensen went into Idaho’s high backcountry for Memorial Day weekend, they never expected how it would change their lives.

They enjoyed the first few days catching up on some much needed R&R together in the Great Outdoors; but by Sunday night, the eve before Memorial Day, things unexpectedly took a turn for the worse as Mike suffered a massive heart attack at their campsite along the Salmon River, some 70 miles from the nearest town.

Thanks to his wife, three men and a defibulator, however, he came out of the wilderness with a new lease on life. The couple says that how his life was saved that day was nothing short of a miracle.

A Heartening Experience
Mike and Cindy, who only tied the knot in early December, are in many ways still enjoying their honeymoon. They arrived at Corn Creek Campground on the North Fork of the Salmon River on Friday, May 24, and expected to spend the next several days enjoying the fresh air and scenery.

Mike Jensen holds up one of the fish he caught on Sunday, May 26, not long before his heart attack that evening along the North Fork of the Salmon River. (Credit: Mike and Cindy Jensen)

The Twin Falls couple spent part of Sunday fishing. Mike caught a few small fish, but nothing to write home about. Afterward, on their way back to camp, Mike decided he wanted to cut some deadfall to use in a campfire that evening. After returning to camp, Cindy went into their trailer to prepare dinner while Mike busied himself with the fire.

After the fire was started Mike sat down to rest next to the flames, but soon called to his wife. He said he wasn’t feeling well. He described his sensations as “clammy” and “dizzy” with a tightening in his chest. Cindy, recalling the scene, said he looked pale.

“I knew something was wrong,” she said. He got up, took four or five steps behind their camp trailer, and collapsed onto the forest floor.

Later, after receiving medical attention, a doctor inquired about his collapse and told the couple that Mike likely had died at that moment. He would have remained dead if not for three ministering angels who, after the beckoning call from his wife, helped save him that day along the Salmon River.

“I would be planning his funeral instead of talking about this miracle if it hadn’t been for those men,” Cindy said in an interview with News Radio 1310 on May 30, just a few days after the traumatic experience.

Mike was with her at the station, still tired and bruised from the ordeal, but by all appearances one would never guess that just a few days prior he was fighting for his life.

A Miracle Machine
“Don’t leave me,” Cindy called out to her husband as he lay on the ground, the campfire still burning nearby. She was crying, her own heart in disarray thinking that just six months after their marriage she could be left a widow.

What seemed like hours was in fact only minutes before Mike, at her continuous efforts to revive him, regained consciousness. He still teetered between life and death, and Cindy knew she had to act quickly, but options were limited in such a remote location.

Enter the unknown angels.

Cindy had earlier watched three men arrive by the river to a campsite not far from their own. “They were just setting up their camp when I called for their help,” she said, explaining that before the men arrived her and Mike were the only ones in the vicinity.

The three men responded immediately, coming to Mike’s aid. One of the men carried some sort of machine, Cindy recalls, thinking at the time it had something to do with blood pressure. She didn’t know until the first charge that it was a defibrillator, a device that the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute says sends a shock to the heart to restore a normal rhythm.

Mike, who says he doesn’t remember much of the experience because of the condition he was in at the time, did say he was conscious when the men used the defibrillator and remembers the pain he felt when the electrical shock pounded his chest. It’s a pain he never wants to feel again.

The couple say they still are amazed at the situation: What are the odds of someone carrying a defibrillator in the wilderness, some 70 miles from civilization, who just happened to be nearby when Mike collapsed from a heart attack?

Mike calls it oddly unlikely. Though he says he is not a pious man, he has no problem seeing something miraculous in the event. He calls it a miracle on the Salmon.

Journey to the Hospital
Getting to the hospital was another miracle, or perhaps a combination of miracles. About nine hours had elapsed from the time Mike collapsed to the time he got to a hospital in Montana for surgery.

Mike Jensen rests in a hospital bed, but the journey to the bed was a long one after he suffered a heart attack in Idaho's remote wilderness. (Credit: Mike and Cindy Jensen)

“We kept him going with the defibrillator for just over two hours while we waited on the ambulance, and then it was another two hours in the ambulance to get to Salmon hospital,” Cindy explained.

After that it was more waiting and traveling: about three hours before the medical staff could get Mike on a plane and then another hour of flight time to Missoula; then there was the ambulance ride from the airport to the hospital. In all, Mike had a total of eight transfers before he got to the emergency room. He didn’t get into surgery until about 4:15 a.m. Monday.

During all that time in the wilderness, however, Mike’s guardian angels never left his side until the other medical angels arrived. Cindy says the ambulance staff was all volunteers who braved often muddy and slick roads coming to Mike’s rescue in such remote and rugged terrain.

A Heartfelt Thank You
If Mike didn’t believe in angels before his heart attack, he does now. Though those who came to his rescue that day along the Salmon River were of flesh and blood, they were ministering angels nonetheless.

Cindy, whose mind was on the care and survival of her husband that Sunday in late May, still remembered at the time to thank the men and ask their names. But she says they declined to give her their names and contact information, saying only that they were glad they were there to help.

The reason the Jensens decided to share their story is because they want to somehow recognize and publicly thank the unknown men who helped save a life that day “some 70 miles from nowhere,” as Mike calls it.

A view of the Salmon River over Memorial Day weekend, not far from where Mike Jensen suffered a heart attack. If not for three men and a defibrillator, Mike says he wouldn't have come out of the wilderness alive. (Credit: Mike and Cindy Jensen)

defibrillator

The couple says there is no doubt in their minds that Mike would have come out of the wilderness a corpse if the men hadn’t shown up when they did – and because one of them carried a defibrillator in the unlikeliest of places.

Cindy, who says she does believe in a higher power, recalls one of the men’s first names, the man who carried the defibrillator. It was a strong religious name. His name was Noah.

Just what impact did the men have on Mike, besides saving him from an early grave?

“It has really given me a new lease on life,” Mike says of his ordeal. “At times I catch myself falling back into the normality of life like it never happened,” but then he quickly tells himself: “’Mike, look what happened to you!’ … It was like winning the lottery.”

Mike says he appreciates the three men in the wilderness, but also all of the medical personnel who helped save his life that Memorial Day weekend that turned into a miracle along the Salmon River.

He says he counts every second and every step he takes as a precious gift.

“It takes time to soak in, but overall this has really bent my mind,” he says. “The fact that I lived through it is astounding to me. ... I have to appreciate every second that has been given to me.”