When John Babista approached the end of Leon's Triathlon with his trademark "airplane landing" finish, it was to entertain his sons, wife and supporters who cheered him on during the annual race as well as to celebrate another successful completion of an endurance event.
But it soon proved to be a crash landing as the 40-year-old Woodridge man collapsed shortly after the finish, stopped breathing and showed no sign of pulse.
Two men, an ER doctor and registered nurse Christian Charvet, who just finished the race behind Babista and alertly instructed people trying to prop up Babista as if to wake him to lay him on the ground, performed CPR on the spot.
Though CPR is that situation is more of a means to keep blood and oxygen circulating throughout the body to improve one's chances at the hospital rather than resuscitation, Charvet said they were able to revive Babista momentary before paramedics transported him from Wolf Lake Park in Hammond, where the race was held on June 2, to Franciscan St. Margaret Health-Hammond nearly four miles away.
When Babista arrived at the hospital, his situation was grave.
"For all intents and purposes (he) was dead," said Eric Cook, D.O., the hospital's Emergency Medical Services director who was on duty that day. "He had been down for 40 minutes."
Babista immediately received therapeutic hypothermia treatment, which quickly cools the body, helping to preserve the brain and heart while preventing neurotoxins that usually attack the brain 24 to 48 hours after cardiac arrest.
The cooling was done for about 24 hours while the hospital's medical staff dealt with Babista's metabolic changes before his body was slowly warmed to normal temperatures.
"This is a therapy that literally saved his life," said Erin Keith, manager of the Intensive Care and Cardiovascular units. "Had we not had this (therapeutic hypothermia treatment is relatively new to the area), I don't think the outcome would have been good."
Babista was touch and go for days before steadily improving. He finally became aware of his surroundings nearly 13 days after the race.
"I didn't recognize where I was," Babista said. "Then my wife (Alma) explained what happened. I couldn't believe it."
Babista and his wife are both nurses. An avid cyclist and marathon runner, Babista has been competing in triathlons for three years, including an "Ironman" which generally consist of a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike ride and a full-marathon (26.2-miles), far greater distances than Leon's.
"I train all year long ... this was an eye-opener," said Babista, who was discharged from the hospital on June 21 before receiving nine days of treatment at a rehabilitation facility.
"Even if you're healthy and in good shape, anything can happen," said Babista, who continues to recover at home.
Babista and his wife are grateful for all those who assisted in the recovery, including Catholic Charities which enabled Babista's mother to be flown in from the Philippines, and the administration at the hospital which allowed his family to stay in an apartment near the hospital.
"God is so good; we are so blessed," Alma said. "I have no family in this country, but feel I found one at St. Margaret."
Karen Callahan, the registered nurse who on duty with Cook that day, calls Babista's recovery a "miracle."
"He had power from above, and love and strength from his wife and family, coupled with a great staff effort," Callahan said. "Everything went according to plan, leading to a picture-perfect outcome."