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Kayaker Survives Icy Plunge in Lake Michigan

Michael and his 17-year-old son Derrik had been kayaking on Lake Michigan many times, but this April afternoon was different.  “We had never been out in water this cold before and just wanted a different experience.  So we were going to go out, have fun, and come back and our intention was an hour at most and come back when it got dark,” said Michael.  He reminded his son to be careful.  “He gave me a quick briefing.  He said ‘Don’t mess around,’” said Derrik. 

They paddled out about three quarters of a mile to get past the choppy waters closer to shore.  “That day the swells were probably three to four feet, but rolling.  It’s actually very calming once you get out into the open water,” said Michael.

But as they turned to head back, Michael’s kayak started taking on water.  Then a large swell hit the kayak, throwing Michael into the frigid lake. 

“Oh my goodness, what am I going to do? That was the first thought that ran through my mind,” said Derrik.

Michael knew his odds of making it out of this alive, were slim.  “My initial reaction here is I’m going to die. All of my training, my swimming that I’ve ever been through… I recognized that I was too far out.  The water was too cold for me to survive the distance back to the beach.”  Yet he made up his mind to fight for his life. 

“I literally thought if God wants me today He’s going to have to take me because I’m not going to give up,” said Michael.  He swam to Derrik’s kayak, but couldn’t get in without sinking them.  He held onto a handle on the back of the kayak as both paddled furiously toward shore. “I did a little bit of praying.  That God would help us.  Help me to pull through this. Help my dad pull through it,” said Derrik. 

Within 10 minutes, Michael’s body was shutting down.  “I had become so weak that my hand slipped out of the handle and I went out of water. Completely under water. 
Three times Michael slipped under the water.  They had gotten to about 150 yards from shore when several young men walking on the beach, spotted them.  By now they were in only 4 feet of water.

Dispatcher: “911. What’s the exact location of your emergency?”

Caller: “I’m here on Indiana Dunes Beach in front of the National Park.  There’s someone out in the water in a kayak.  And someone is in the water and they’re yelling for help.”

“They came into the water.  The two men grabbed me.  They picked me up and carried me onto the beach,” said Michael.

Dispatch: “How long has he been in the water?”

Caller: “They think 20 minutes. They just got him out.  They’re walking him up to the pavilion.” 

Derrik remembers that moment.  “It was pretty scary.  He’s my dad.  If I were to lose him I would feel like it was my fault.”

Soon emergency responders arrived and took him to porter regional hospital. As doctors treated him for hypothermia, they knew it could go either way.  "When Michael came in his temperature was 84 degrees which is moderate hypothermia.  At that level your heart rate tends to slow down.  You are increased risk for arrhythmia.  Your heart can go to an arrhythmia that is not compatible with life,” said Dr. Michael Woods, Porter Regional Hospital. 

There was also a high risk that he would suffer long term kidney and muscle damage.  But as Michael’s body temperature approached normal, it was clear he was going to be fine.  “Once I became stable and I started getting my mental capacity back that’s when I started being thankful to God that I was alive,” said Michael. 

In fact, after only four hours in the hospital, Michael was free to go home.  “Physician walked in, and I’ll never forget this.  He had my medical chart in his hand and literally threw it on the counter and looked right at me and said ‘If you don’t believe in God, you need to right now.’  He said, ‘I can’t believe I’m going to say this.  I have no reason to keep you. We’re going to release you.”

From the young men appearing at the right time, to his quick and full recovery, Michael says there’s only one explanation.  “I know it was God through that whole process.  To have the physical ability and the mental strength to make it back to the beach was beyond my capacity. To have everything happen in the sequence that it did was just a confirmation for me of the existence of God.”

“It sounds like a miracle to me. That is unique that he had no long-term sequela. That is when you have an injury and you live with that injury for a long period of time. That was excellent,” said Dr. Woods.

“God gave him the strength to pull through, and push, and just keep holding on,” said Derrik.

Michael and his family are thankful for God’s protection and grace.  God was there the whole time and keeping me alive and he gave me the strength and the will to fight.  That’s where that came from.  That wasn’t mine.  That was His.  I only endured a short amount of pain and trauma, which is a miracle in itself.  That’s God that’s working.  I should have died and He pulled me out.  So it’s a story about how God can perform miracles,” said Michael.  “I am blessed because He chose to save me and He pulled me out of the water alive.”

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