‘They definitely saved my life’
Kevin Erpelding may be a lifelong resident of Iowa, but when it comes to high-country activities, he is no novice. Since the early 1990s, he has made annual ski trips to Aspen and other destinations in the West. Two years ago, he hiked Mount Whitney in California, the tallest mountain in the contiguous United States, and has “bagged” some other 14,000-foot peaks. He also has completed many 5K runs and two half-marathons.
In his early 50s, Kevin is the last person you’d expect to have a heart attack — yet that is exactly what happened on April 25, 2021.
It was the third day of a ski trip to Aspen with two friends. They were on their second run down from the top of Snowmass when Kevin began feeling a sharp pain in his shoulders. “I get pinched nerves now and again,” he said, “But as I skied, it kept getting worse and worse.”
Kevin dismissed his friends’ suggestion that he return to their condo and rest. At the end of the run, however, the pain was intense. He looked for a local chiropractic office but couldn’t find one that was open. Finally, he checked into the Snowmass Clinic, part of Aspen Valley Hospital’s Network of Care, around 11 a.m.
“I was in an exam room and one of the doctors was looking at me,” Kevin said. “I remember asking for drugs for the pain. But the doctor said I had something more than just back pain. Then I blacked out. When I came to, they were pumping air into my oxygen mask with a hand pump, and they had also hit me with the defibrillator.”
Although he didn’t know it, Kevin had suffered a massive heart attack. Clinic staff worked to keep him alive, stabilize him and call for an ambulance transfer to the hospital.
On the way, he suffered another heart scare and was aware of the ambulance crew applying the defibrillator to his chest again. “It’s not something you want to remember,” he said. “I was awake, but I was in shock. I kept thinking, ‘Why am I having a heart attack? I was just skiing.’”
At the hospital, cardiac surgeons implanted two stents in Kevin’s right coronary artery. As the doctors explained to him, plaque had broken lose in one of his blood vessels, traveled to the heart and created the blockage. By late afternoon, he was out of surgery and on the phone with his wife, Denise. Three days later, he was on his way back to Iowa.
Since getting home, Kevin has continued his care regimen, such as taking medication, completing cardiac rehab, walking on the treadmill and around town, and getting regular checkups with his local care team. One of the things he had to learn is to slow down a little as he couldn’t continue with his grueling work schedule he used to follow. But he is definitely enjoying his second lease on life.
“I’m slowly getting back to my lifestyle,” Kevin said. “I’ve done more fishing and hunting. Just not doing as much strenuous activities that I used to do. That will take time.” As for skiing, Kevin hit the slopes around his home area in Iowa this season. And he also has started thinking about returning to Colorado and Snowmass again — maybe next ski season.
“I plan to go back and say hi to everybody at the Snowmass Clinic, because they definitely saved my life,” Kevin said. “This was going to happen to me somewhere, and I’m glad they had urgent care there. They did a wonderful job, and I am living a second life because of the clinic, the ambulance crew and the cardiology staff.”
To thank the Snowmass Clinic care team who helped saved his life last year following a heart attack while skiing, Iowa native Kevin Erpelding sent bottles of wine, neck gators and a thank-you note to the team last holiday season. Here with the gifts are a few of the Snowmass care providers: Ryan Curry, RN, BSN; Clinic Manager Kelly Hansen; Steve Furer, MD, FACEP; and Joanna Rajchert, X-ray Technician.