On Dec. 27, doctors delivered heartbreaking news to the family of police officer Ken Kirby: He had died of a massive heart attack.
On Jan. 26, Kirby was back to work.
Dubbed “Officer Lazarus” by the people of Seneca, S.C., 52-year-old Kirby came back from the dead after his wife Tina, daughter Courtney and son Matthew had already said their goodbyes. Very much alive, he was joined by all of them as they sat down with Matt Lauer on TODAY Tuesday to recount their medical miracle.
Kirby told Lauer that he had been healthy “as an ox” for his entire life — until he began feeling ill just after Christmas.
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“My wife and I had taken down our Christmas decorations, and I started feeling nauseous, starting getting sick,” Kirby said. “I remember the tightness in my chest and the pain in my arms that started in my left arm, mostly in the triceps area. It was unreal; it’s nothing I’d ever felt before.”
Tina immediately knew something was seriously wrong, and paramedics were called to the Kirby home. Ken went into cardiac arrest and actually flatlined before doctors were successful in reviving him.
But after doctors worked on him for 45 minutes, Kirby flatlined for a second — and, doctors believed, final — time.
“They came to us to say, ‘We’re sorry, but we can’t get a pulse back, he’s gone,’ ” son Matthew told Lauer.
A faint pulse
Tina said the attending physician asked her if she wanted to see her husband to say goodbye. “I walk into this room, and they are still doing compressions and bagging just for my sake,” she said. “He’s purple and black from head to toe, and swollen.”
But Jennifer Cape, a nurse at the Oconee Medical Center, continued to monitor Kirby. Some five minutes after Tina had said goodbye to her husband, Cape noticed a barely-there pulse had returned. Astounded doctors took an ultrasound and found a slight heartbeat.
Still, the chances of Kirby’s being able to maintain life seemed slim at best. He needed to be rushed to a bigger hospital facility in Greenville for surgery. His son Matthew called in some favors with his dad’s fellow police officers to clear a path for the ambulance.
“I called everybody I could think of to say, ‘Hey, do you what you can to get that ambulance through there as fast as you can get it and help him out,’ ” Matthew told Lauer.
Doctors operated on the main artery to Kirby’s heart, which had a 93 percent blockage. And just one hour after surgery, the man who had been pronounced dead was sitting up in his hospital bed and greeting his family.
A second chance
Daughter Courtney told Lauer that strangely, family members can’t recall the moment in which they were told their father had passed away.
A second chance
“We can’t draw back on those feelings anymore,” she said. “I guess it’s been so much since then, we’ve tried to sit down and go, ‘OK, can I feel what I felt then?’ and we can’t. There’s a lot we don’t even remember.”
Kirby says he is making the most of his second chance at life. He’s kicked his cigarette habit and cut down on his large intake of caffeine.
More importantly for wife Tina, she has a second chance at telling her husband how much she loves him. She says the couple had always talked their way through any issues in their 33-year marriage, but in the days before Ken’s heart attack, the pair had been quarreling.
When told her husband had died, Tina says, “I asked my pastor, ‘What am I doing to do, how am I going to live with the fact that I didn’t get a chance to tell him I loved him, and that I was sorry?’ ”
Tina has made her apologies, and the reunited couple now look to the heavens in thanks.
Today Kirby is slowly easing back into work. Doctors had feared the lack of oxygen during his time flatlined could cause brain damage, but he told Lauer there have been no adverse effects.
The family has also had the happy opportunity to thank plucky nurse Cape for sticking by Ken and detecting his returned pulse. In an interview with TODAY, she said Kirby “was as purple as any deceased body I’ve ever seen — no way did we ever think this man would make it. If he made it to Greenville, it would be a miracle.”
The family recently visited Cape at the hospital, and there were hugs to spare.
“It’s very gratifying to have people come to you and tell you that your work matters,” she said. “It really was a miracle.”
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