Against the odds: Mountain biker’s life saved by off-duty doctor

— This story first appeared on CBS Minnesota.

It’s a story of survival that even the people who lived it can barely comprehend.

A Twin Cities man survived a brutal mountain biking accident, thanks to a risky medical move by a highly-skilled stranger.

The challenging Cuyuna Lakes Mountain Bike Trails, in Crow Wing County, Minnesota, are a therapeutic distraction for Todd. He’s an Eagan, Minnesota father and corrections officer.

“It’s a huge stress reliever, just with the nature of my job,” Todd said.

It’s a place where Dr. Jesse Coenen — an emergency room doctor in Hayward, Wisconsin — comes for post-work solace, too.

“Mountain biking is an activity that I enjoy, which is why I happen to be in that spot that day,” Coenen said.

And that spot is where two strangers’ lives would intertwine.

“I mean, what are the odds?” Todd remarked to CBS Minnesota from his hospital bed in Minneapolis.

Todd, an experienced cyclist, took a violent fall near a ravine more than a week ago. He first spoke to CBS Minnesota Wednesday afternoon.

“I remember landing on like my stomach, and my chest took the brunt of the impact. I managed to kind of scoot myself up on this embankment on the left-hand side, and that’s where I sat,” Todd said.

 “I was starting to see white spots. I’m like, ‘OK, this isn’t cool. … This isn’t normal.'”

Even though Todd had just about the worst accident possible, it turned out he had the best timing, because of who was behind him on the trails.

Dr. Coenen approached the hard-working medics at the scene who realized death was looming, so he joined in and tried a technique he’d only trained for: an impromptu tracheotomy.

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Scene on Minnesota mountain bike trail where Dr. Jesse Coenen saved a fellow mountain biker’s life. CBS Minnesota

“It’s not something that you want to have to do, but we found ourselves in the situation where there’s not another option,” he said.

“I must’ve been pausing before doing it, and one of the paramedics looked at me and said, ‘We need an airway,’ meaning this has to be done, and that’s when I proceeded,” Coenen recalled.

“That’s an uncommon procedure, and when I had the scalpel in my hand, I was hesitant to do that because obviously cutting someone’s neck, you’re leaving a scar.”

It worked, and Todd was flown to a hospital, where he was treated for a traumatic brain injury. He doesn’t remember the doctor, but does realize his good fortune.

“It does really sink in,” an emotional Todd said. “I got a wife, I got a daughter who’s 16 years old, she’s a sophomore in high school.”

So when Todd was released, CBS Minnesota made a virtual introduction between the men.

“It’s great to know that you’re alive, to be honest,” Coenen said to Todd in a Zoom reunion Wednesday evening. “I was not optimistic about the outlook, so being able to sit here and talk with you today, only 10 days later, is really unbelievable.”

Todd told Dr. Coenen how grateful he was for saving his life.

“I can send you the biggest virtual hug that is known to anybody,” Todd said. “It’s kind of like, you know, when a kid gets a teddy bear and he’s holding the bear so tight, I mean, that’s kind of what it feels like right now.”

And just like that, a new friendship was made between two bikers who somehow ended up on the same path. They’ve already made plans to meet next summer and go for a ride.

Todd was wearing his helmet and had all the safety equipment needed that day. He wants to remind others to do the same.