Several runners and police officers can call themselves heroes after coming to the aid of a runner whose heart stopped beating Saturday during the Modesto Midnight Half Marathon.
They performed cardiopulmonary resuscitation for several minutes on Oakdale resident Dennis Thiessen, 46, after he stopped breathing about five miles into the race, which drew hundreds of runners during its second year.
"I feel great," Thiessen said Sunday afternoon by cell phone as an ambulance took him to a Kaiser Permanente facility in Santa Clara for more tests to determine what happened to his heart. "But I'm a little sore in the chest from the CPR."
Dr. Danielle Myers is one of the runners who helped Thiessen. She said they may not have saved his life but they saved his brain by keeping the blood pumping throughout his body.
"Some people can go a couple of minutes with their heart not beating and be OK," said Myers, a Modesto resident and associate medical director for Golden Valley Health Centers. "Others can have severe brain damage."
Myers and Bob Root were running the race together. The two friends are members of the ShadowChase Running Club of Modesto.
They came upon Thiessen about 9:48 p.m. He was lying on his side on Dry Creek Drive near Knob Creek Lane along the race course. Another runner saw Thiessen fall seconds before Myers and Root saw him in the street. A fourth runner also stopped to help, Myers said.
She said Thiessen was unconscious and had a faint pulse. They turned him onto his back to open up his airway. One runner called 911.
His breathing became labored and then his heart stopped.
Myers began CPR but soon had to stop because she has a broken wrist. Root, who was certified in CPR about a year ago, then took over the chest compressions.
Later, Modesto police officer Matt McMahon would take Root's place.
McMahon said Frank Inacio was the first officer on the scene. Then McMahon and his partner Dave Serratos arrived. The two were among the officers assigned to the race. Officer Jason Stewart also responded.
Myers said the officers used their cars to shield Thiessen from the other runners and any cars.
Then the ambulance arrived and its crew joined the effort. Myers said the ambulance workers eventually used a defibrillator on Thiessen because his heart's electrical impulses had gone haywire and were preventing his heart from beating.
McMahon said he continued to perform CPR after the ambulance crew shocked Thiessen's heart. About two minutes later, Thiessen gasped and started to regain consciousness.
The ambulance took Thiessen to Memorial Medical Center.
Thiessen doesn't remember much from the race.
"I just remember I was running and all of a sudden I got really lightheaded and I stopped," he said. "That's all I remember."
He said he has no history of heart problems and does a handful of triathlons and road races each year. He also does one hour of cardio training six days a week.
Myers, Root and the others worked on Thiessen for about 12 to 15 minutes. Then Myers and Root did what any other runner would do in their shoes: They finished the half marathon, completing the 13.1 miles in 2 hours and 27 minutes, including the time spent saving a life.
They got updates from the police officers as they ran, letting them know Thiessen was doing well.
"If I was in their situation, I would want to know," McMahon said. "So we tried to find them."
After the race, Myers drove to Memorial to check on Thiessen. As she drove, she decided to give him her race medal, the one given to the runners who finished the half marathon.
"I really wanted him to have a memory of the race where his life was saved," she said.
Thiessen said he was grateful to the police, am- bulance workers and run- ners who came to his aid, especially Myers.
"Truly she's my hero."
Bee staff writer Kevin Valine can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2316.