Clay Meers was winning. In Florida for six weeks of flight training, he'd joined fellow flight school students at a pool for some good old-fashioned fun in the sun. When they began challenging each other to see who could swim underwater the farthest without taking a breath, Clay seemed to have them all beat.
Then, as Denver, Colorado's 9News.com reports, the unthinkable happened.
In medical terms, what happened to Clay is called "shallow water blackout." Clay remembers none of it, including the physical and emotional energy Beth Grieninger, M.D., put into bringing him back to life after his friends pulled him from the pool, called 911, and an ambulance rushed him to the Emergency Department at Mayo Clinic's Florida campus.
Dr. Grieninger's medical training, experience and instincts all told her that her chances of success were slim. So slim, in fact, that she wanted to make sure Clay's family got to the hospital as soon as possible, in case they needed to say their goodbyes. When she got on the phone to talk to Clay's wife, Tami, Dr. Grieninger's heart sank. "I could hear her children in the background playing," Dr. Grieninger tells the station.
Dr. Grieninger instructed Tami to get on the first flight to Jacksonville. Meanwhile, she and her team exhausted every treatment method and protocol they could think of. At first, nothing worked. Clay continued to lie there, eyes closed, "as sick as you could be and still be alive," the station reports.
But Dr. Grieninger wasn't willing to give up. The station reports she "consulted with colleagues about trying therapeutic hypothermia," a treatment protocol that would allow her to use cooling devices to temporarily lower Clay's core body temperature in hopes of not only protecting, but improving, his neurological function. It was, Dr. Grieninger says, the last remaining option and hope for Clay. "To say it broke my heart is not an exaggeration," she tells the station. "I did go home that night, and I lit candles and said prayers, and I prayed for a miracle."
Three days later, those prayers were answered. "We were all there by his bedside, and he opened his eyes and he looked at all of us," Tami Meers tells the station. "He couldn't speak because he was intubated, but you could tell he recognized all of us right away."
As he looked past his family, Clay also began to recognize the looks of disbelief on the faces of his care team. "These nurses and doctors were crying, some looking at me like I was a ghost, praising God," he tells the station. "It was just a very emotional experience."
One that Clay tells us he'll be forever grateful for, especially to Dr. Grieninger. "With the help of others, she took me from a worst-case scenario to being able to walk out of the hospital on my own," Clay says. "Had she not been willing to try — and able to try — everything that she did to save me, I would have died."
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