William Kendhammer was sipping a cold beer Saturday at the Maple Leaf Parade, chatting with a friend. The next thing he remembers, he was staring up at emergency personnel as they fought to save his life.

“He was essentially dead,” said Dr. Kristof Gehrke, a physician in Mayo Clinic Health System’s intensive care unit.

Kendhammer, a 34-year-old father of two, had gone into sudden cardiac arrest.

Luckily, a pair of Tri-State Ambulance bicycle paramedics had an automated external defibrillator. It’s what saved his life, Gehrke said.

Kendhammer and his wife, Kathy, 32, were at the corner of State and Second streets with about two dozen friends for their annual parade tradition of grilling out and drinking beer. Mid-conversation, his wife saw Kendhammer fall backward into the crowd.

“I tried smacking him in the face and told him to wake up,” she said.

Kendhammer’s cousin called 911, and a friend started CPR. Two paramedics on bicycles arrived about a minute later, along with the La Crosse Fire Department. The AED brought Kendhammer back, said Tri-State Ambulance Supervisor Nick Eastman. He arrived at the hospital 10 minutes later, alert and talking.

The incident gives an important reminder that cardiac arrest can happen to anyone at any time, said Dr. Cheri Olson, president of the Seven Rivers Sudden Cardiac Arrest Association and family physician at Mayo Clinic Health System. It’s genetic and can be detected if screened, which is usually suggested when a direct family member goes into cardiac arrest, said Mayo Clinic Health System Cardiologist Consultant Monique Freund.

The association is working to get AEDs anywhere people are congregated, such as restaurants, schools and hotels.

Each squad car at the La Crosse city police and county sheriff’s departments has an AED, as well as each emergency vehicle at the La Crosse Fire Department. Tri-State carries similar machines in each ambulance, and both bike teams have an AED.

It’s critical in saving lives, Eastman said. Without early CPR or an AED, survival chances go down 10 percent every minute.

Kendhammer never expected he’d suffer a cardiac arrest. Looking back, he had some signs, like chest pains in the weeks beforehand. He thought nothing of it.

“You don’t expect this at 30-something,” he said. “You figure you don’t have to worry until your 50s or 60s. It was an eye-opener.”

On Tuesday morning, the La Crosse resident had a small defibrillator placed next to his heart. It’ll kick in if he has another cardiac arrest.

He says he’s learned to appreciate what he has. “You’re not going to be here forever.”

Still, he’s trying to add a little humor to the situation with next year’s Oktoberfest shirts for his group of friends. Kendhammer get’s to pick out what they say.

Perhaps “Shocktoberfest” or “A heart-stopping good time.”

“We’ll come up with something good,” he said.

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