Noah Hartford was setting up camp over Memorial Day weekend after a long day of rafting the Salmon River when his friend heard a stranger’s plea for help.
Deep in the Salmon-Challis National Forest, the 39-year-old Moscow general contractor dropped his camping duties as the quest to keep a Twin Falls, Idaho, man alive began.
Hartford and two friends finished the first day of a nine-day rafting expedition on the river. The three were not supposed to be at Corn Creek Campground — 67 miles northwest of Salmon, Idaho. They planned to take the Middle Fork of the Salmon River, but bad conditions convinced the group to travel main stem instead.
The change in travel plans likely saved a life.
While setting up camp the night of May 26, Hartford said one of his friends heard a woman hollering for help. Hartford and company rushed toward the woman — Cindy Jensen — and found her husband Mike Jensen on the ground suffering from a massive heart attack.
Mike, who will turn 62 Sunday, said doctors later told him he most likely died when he initially blacked out that night, and had Cindy not been there “to beat me back into consciousness” he would not have come back. Besides that initial moment, Mike said he was conscious the entire time.
After several hours, two forest rangers were reached and soon entered the scene — one brought a defibrillator and the other dialed for help.
That’s when Hartford, who is trained in CPR, first aid and the use of a defibrillator, put his training to work.
He applied the low battery AED to the man and delivered three shocks over the course of about one and a half hours.
A Lemhi County Sheriff’s deputy and an emergency medical technician — who took over the scene — showed up about 15 minutes before the ambulance arrived, Hartford said.
All told, Hartford, his friends, Cindy and the rangers were at Mike’s side for about two hours.
It took eight medical transfers, including ground and air transportation, in nine hours to get him into an operating room 165 miles away at Providence St. Patrick Hospital in Missoula, Mont.
“He truly is a hero,” Mike said of Hartford.
Mike said Hartford’s quickness in setting up the defibrillator and delivering the first shock was critical.
“There was about a five-minute window there that had he not been there and had that defib not been in place, I would not be talking to you right now,” Jensen said. “It was that close of a call.”
“It’s an amazing, amazing story and it couldn’t have turned out any better,” Hartford said. “I’m really glad it turned out the way it did. It could have went the other way just as easily.”
Hartford said he remained pretty calm during the pressurized event.
“I kind of tend to focus really well in those kind of situations,” he said.
It was not the first time Hartford has treated someone with life-threatening heart issues, and it might not be his last.
He said he has applied CPR to his now 9-year-old son, who has a congenital heart defect, twice.
Additionally, Hartford said his son went into cardiac arrest when he was 3 and a Moscow Police Department officer pulled an AED from her police cruiser to save his life.
Hartford and Mike said they are huge advocates for AEDs in public places, such as schools.
Hartford said he encourages others to be trained in CPR and AEDs so they can be proactive in these types of situations.
Hartford said he applied for EMT training this fall and hopes to eventually utilize his skills with the Moscow volunteer ambulance crew, to gain more knowledge and to give back to the community.
Mike Jensen and his wife — married six months — had been fishing and sightseeing in the forest a couple days prior to an unforgettable Sunday when Mike came close to death.
He said he was on his way back to the camp from a fishing outing when he stopped to cut some dead wood to use for a fire. After throwing the rounds in the back of his truck and driving back to the camp, he gathered the recently-cut wood by the fire pit and sat down.
Then the trouble started.
Mike said he became dizzy and experienced tightness in his chest. Mike took four or five steps and fell.
“I don’t remember anything after that except for the next thing I saw was sand,” Mike said.
He said the rain made for slippery, muddy roads for first responders that night.
“It was perilous simply for the ambulance to come in and out of there along that slippery road,” Mike said. “I mean one slip and overcorrection, we would have all been in that river.”
He called his wife a hero for shaking him and yelling not to leave her. Cindy said he finally did wake up.
“I knew he was slipping away,” she said.
Cindy said she wrapped her husband in blankets and tried to keep him as comfortable as possible during the two hours before the ambulance arrived. She said the 120 minutes were horrible, but the couple said they were not scared during the process.
“I never felt a single tinge of fear whatsoever,” Mike said.
He said he focused on his breathing and trying to keep from freezing because his heart was not pumping adequate blood through his body.
“It seemed like I was laying on ice,” Mike said. “I mean I was shaking uncontrollably. It was horrible.”
Cindy said she was focused on getting him to the hospital and tried not to think about the fact every moment was critical to him surviving.
While the two did not feel fear, Mike said the pain in his chest and somewhat in his left arm was intense and continuous.
“One time I did say to my wife, ‘I don’t know if I’m going to make it,’ ” Mike said.
Mike, who had no heart problems prior to the event, said the two stents Missoula doctors placed opened up his completely blocked artery. He said plaque caused the clog and almost his demise.
Even before the dangerously close call, Mike said he did not take life for granted. But his appreciation for living has intensified.
“I’m going to try to pull everything I can out of life,” he said.
Garrett Cabeza can be reached at (208) 883-4631, or by email to email@example.com.