After suffering a heart attack immediately after crossing the finish line of Bloomsday in 2022, Kurt Dehmer beat his Bloomsday time this year by about five minutes.
The 65-year-old South Hill resident was among the two Bloomsday participants who suffered cardiac arrest during the run in 2022. Dehmer, who signed up for the race without any training that year, said things were going well enough, but his memory is blurry after mile 6.
He doesn’t remember feeling unwell. He doesn’t remember feeling tired. No bright lights. No pearly gates. He doesn’t remember anything after he crossed the finish line.
“Nothing!” Dehmer said with a hearty laugh. “I could feel that the run wasn’t as fun as it used to be. It just seemed like it was a slog.”
Everything he knows, he was told from friends who were with him.
‘His eyes were vacant’
Heidi Bollum crossed the finish shortly before Dehmer did.
The two friends have known each other for about 30 years and bumped into each other on Broadway Avenue near the courthouse.
According to Bollum, Dehmer made the comment that they should try to run across the finish line. They started running to the finish line, but Dehmer abruptly slowed to a walk.
“Even as he was coming across the finish line, I knew he was gone,” Bollum said. “His eyes were vacant. He was slack-jawed. His color was awful.”
He dropped to his knees and fell down on the cement just after the finish line.
The onslaught of racers continued forward, stepping over him, as she screamed for a medic.
“By the grace of God, the medics tent was just off in the little park on the north side of the river on the west side of Monroe,” she said. “With enough screaming, they showed up, maybe just to drag him out of the way.”
A supervising medic recognized Dehmer had gone into cardiac arrest and began CPR within seconds, she said.
“That portion of time felt like an eternity,” she recalled.
Two of the arteries in his heart became blocked, causing it to stop. He was hit three times with defibrillator paddles before medics revived him.
As he came to, “he said, ‘Heidi, have we been drinking?’ ” Bollum said.
Dehmer was transported to Sacred Heart shortly after.
He would have died if it weren’t for the immediate attention, Dehmer said.
“I remember them opening the door and the doctor saying a few things that were rather striking,” said Dehmer, who has been running Bloomsday his entire adult life. “If that happened anywhere else on the course, we wouldn’t have been having this conversation.”
Spokane Fire Department Chief Brian Schaeffer said one of the most important roles for emergency personnel during Bloomsday is building “contingencies” as the city’s transportation infrastructure gets rerouted for the race.
“There are islands that get cut off from the Bloomsday course where the only access for emergencies is helicopter,” Schaeffer said.
Government Way is the one major portion of the race that has limited access for first responders, he said.
Staffing personnel along the route has become somewhat routine, but every year there are different variables, including temperatures, downtown construction and security threats, among others, Schaeffer said.
Ultimately, Schaeffer is proud of the emergency personnel along the Bloomsday route.
“It isn’t like the old days when you had to wait to target to the hospital to get advanced care,” he said. “We’re doing it in the field. You name anything that can go wrong with the electrical system in your heart, your pulmonary system, we have the ability to treat that and be proactive.”
Keeping it moving
Dehmer underwent a double-bypass surgery two days after his heart attack.
He has never had any health problems in the past and has remained in overall good shape, he said. He even started eating healthier and lost weight during the COVID-19 shutdowns.
But he hadn’t trained for the run and became more sedentary during the previous two years, which he suspects contributed to the heart attack.
After several months of rehab, Dehmer asked his cardiologist if he could do Bloomsday again this year.
“He said, ‘Just train this time,’ ” said Dehmer, who works in an office at Selkirk Pharma as a financial manager. “I get on the treadmill about six days a week and spend about half an hour to an hour running and walking. I run a little outside and we try to get in long walks too.”
Dehmer started wearing a Fitbit to monitor his heart rate when he’s exercising. He doesn’t let his heart rate exceed 140 beats per minute now.
He was also under strict orders from his wife to run Bloomsday this year under the close supervision of his oldest son.
Dehmer and Bollum met again, randomly, not far from where they met last year, she said.
“I of course immediately started crying,” she said. “It was good to see him running and healthy and happy, and he looks great.”
Dehmer’s only regret this year?
“I would have liked to have run it faster.”