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Council member survives heart attack

During Monday night's Alexandria City Council meeting, Todd Jensen (middle) thanked North Ambulance EMTs Bill Thoennes and Crescent Hess for saving his life after he had a heart attack on Aug. 19. (Al Edenloff / Echo Press)

Alexandria City Council member Todd Jensen nearly died on Sunday, Aug. 19.

In the heat and humidity of a sweltering afternoon, he'd been cleaning out his garage when he didn't feel well.

"I was overheating and sweating," he said.

He went into his house where he tried to cool down but he didn't feel any better. He and his wife, Peggy, debated for about 15 minutes: Was this serious enough to go to Alomere Health?

"I thought it was the heat," Jensen said.

Their son, Robert, who lives with them, made the decision, quickly calling 911.

Meanwhile, Jensen's condition grew worse. He started feeling chest pains and couldn't catch his breath.

Fortunately, help arrived within minutes. Two EMTs from North Ambulance, Crescent Hess and Bill Thoennes, immediately started to treat Jensen. Soon after, police officers Justin Girard and Brian Kakach were on scene.

Thoennes was a very familiar face for Jensen. He's the public works director for the city and the two work together on city issues all the time.

"I didn't panic," Jensen said. "I remember lying on my living-room floor thinking, 'I'll be OK. Bill has got me.'"

Jensen was rushed to Alomere Health where doctors quickly confirmed what the EMTs already knew. He was having a heart attack.

He was airlifted to CentraCare Health in St. Cloud. Along the way, they had to shock his heart twice — once when it was out of rhythm in the helicopter and a second time in the hospital when it went into full arrest.

"Afterward, the doctors told me I was really lucky," Jensen said. "If I hadn't gotten there when I did, they would have lost me."

Jensen had a blood clot and 100-percent blockage in one of his arteries.

Doctors removed the clot and put in a stent. They also used a temporary pacemaker to make sure his heart was beating properly through the night.

The cardiologists found no other problems and Jensen was released that following Tuesday.

The experience taught Jensen a couple things. First, a new appreciation for those who saved his life — his wife, his son, the two police officers and the two EMTs.

"I really feel that if those six people hadn't done what they did, I wouldn't have made it," he said.

The other lesson, Jensen said, is to err on the side of caution if you think you may be having a heart attack, go to the hospital immediately or call 911.

"Don't stand around and debate it — get help," Jensen said. "Don't worry about feeling like an idiot at the hospital if it turns out to be nothing. I got really lucky."

Al Edenloff

Al Edenloff is the news and opinion page editor for the Echo Press. He was born in Alexandria and lived most of his childhood in Parkers Prairie. He graduated with honors from Moorhead State University with a degree in mass communications, print journalism. He interned at the Echo Press in the summer of 1983 and was hired a year later as a sports reporter. He also worked as a news reporter/photographer. Al is a four-time winner of the Minnesota Newspaper Association's Herman Roe Award, which honors excellence in editorial writing.  

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