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Chaplain defies death four times

Couple hopes their story will inspire others to give thanks


by: VERN UYETAKE - Harold Otterlei flatlinded four times on Oct. 5. Thanks to his wife Kimmy Otterlei and medical responders, he survived. Kimmy Otterlei awoke to the sound of a “thump and a bump” from her dressing room at 4 a.m. on Oct. 5. Her husband of 29 years, Harold, a chaplain with Legacy Hospice Services, layed crumbled and unresponsive on the floor, bleeding from his head.

At 4:15 a.m., Kimmy Otterlei called 911 and wrapped a towel around her husband’s head wound. Five minutes later Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue arrived. Within 10 minutes, AMR paramedics were on the scene. By that time, Harold Otterlei was fully cognizant and answering simple questions from the emergency operator.

“Everything seemed calm,” she said.

Despite his apparently stable condition, Kimmy Otterlei asked to ride in the ambulance on the way to the hospital. The ambulance drove away without its lights on. She asked the AMR paramedic about his children, and her husband chitchatted while strapped to the gurney with the paramedic at his side.

Within minutes, his heart stopped and he flatlined. The AMR paramedic performed CPR and revived him.

“At that point I was like ‘Oh God, please, I’m not ready to lose him now, please intervene,’” she said.

Between the hours of 4 and 7:30 a.m. her husband flatlined four different times and was saved by CPR three different times by emergency responders and medical personnel at Legacy Meridian Park. By 10:30 a.m. he had received nine staples in his head and a pacemaker, and was discharged at noon on Oct. 6.

Since the incident, Harold Otterlei has made a full recovery. To show their gratitude, the Otterleis have personally thanked and handed out cookies to each medical person who helped save his life.

“We just wanted to make sure the people that saved my life knew that we appreciated them and we were thankful,” he said. “So many things could have gone wrong and I just received excellent medical care.”

“I’m just so grateful that they were there and able to save his life,” his wife added. “I feel like those people have skills and gifts that serve our community. Every good and perfect gift is from God above and he blessed us with these people.”

Harold Otterlei, 61, moved to Lake Oswego in 1980 to become the pastor of what once was Bethlehem Church on Stafford Road. The couple moved to West Linn in 2000 and he is currently a chaplain with Legacy Hospice Services.by: VERN UYETAKE - Harold and Kimmy Otterlei of West Linn hope to inspire gratitude in their community.

As chaplain, he visits homebound patients and offers spiritual care and family support to patients along the I-5 corridor all the way from Tigard to Salem. Most of the patients are elderly. Some are in their teens or even newborns.

“It’s difficult work, but it’s also rewarding,” he said. “It’s rewarding to be with someone at the end of their journey.”

Harold Otterlei awoke at 4 a.m. on Oct. 5 and walked into his dressing room. He couldn’t decide whether to go back to bed or get ready for the day. The next thing he remembers he was lying, bleeding on the floor next to his wife.

When Harold Otterlei collapsed, he hit his head on the doorway. His doctors at Legacy Meridian Park said his first flatline occurred in his dressing room. The second occurred in the ambulance on the way to the hospital. Yet he was awake in between each episode.

“I never realized I had blacked out, to me it was one continuous line,” he said, recalling the ride in the ambulance. “The EMT said, ‘We almost lost you there’ and I thought, ‘What’s he talking about?’ ”

His third flatline occurred within 20 minutes of arriving at the emergency room. The fourth flatline was soon to follow. Each time, medical personnel performed CPR and brought him back to life.

“After the second flatline my friends and family were there and we just held each other and prayed,” Kimmy Otterlei said.

Harold Otterlei said his cardiologists determined that the natural pacemaker in his heart had somehow “wired out” and was starting and stopping on its own. He was placed under local anesthetic at Meridian Park’s IMCU and given a pacemaker.

“Yes, it was life threatening but it was a simple fix,” he said. “I’m really fortunate to have had the episodes in front of medical personnel.”

Harold Otterlei returned to work just 12 days after his surgery. He is already trained to perform CPR — the procedure that brought him back to life — and his wife has plans to become certified.

He and his wife have also worked to thank the two EMTs who arrived by ambulance, the four firefighters who showed up at the scene, the group of nurses and doctors in the emergency room and the two cardiologists who helped save his life.

The couple greeted some medical responders with joyful tears. Everyone received homemade peanut butter balls dipped in dark chocolate and cranberry oatmeal cookies.

“Every single group of people that we met all said they rarely hear back from people,” he said. “I was so struck. They were so thrilled that we had come back and we were thrilled to be able to brighten their day.”

“Obviously they are public servants but it’s important for them to know in a tangible way that people are grateful,” Kimmy Otterlei added. “We want to encourage our community to think about showing gratitude and not just at Thanksgiving.”



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