homepage logo


He must have 9 lives

By Staff | May 21, 2017

Elton Rhoda surrounded by his First Responder and EMT life savers. From left to right are Melanie Garlick, Brooke Kral, Kelly Bromeland, Elton Rhoda, Chris Sullivan, wife Sharon Rhoda and Mike Songstad.

Elton Rhoda of Elmore knows he is a pretty lucky man. Lucky to even be alive.

“We call him ‘The Cat,'” says his daughter, Kristy Travis. “He seems to have nine lives.”

“But I think he has used up seven of them,” his wife, Sharon, quickly adds. “He better be careful with these last two.”

Rhoda has survived several accidents and serious health scares in the past few years. And, on Monday, May 8, he did it one more time.

Only this time he was dead for a while. And, if it wasn’t for some hard working and well-trained First Responders and EMT ambulance drivers and a machine named Lucas, he probably would have stayed dead.

Elton Rhoda, shown above left, visits with his UHD physician, Dr. Aaron Johnson, about Rhoda’s recent brush with death. Johnson says if it was not for First Responders and EMTs, Rhoda would not have lived.

Here is his story.

On that Monday, Rhoda felt fine. He did some farm chores for his family members who run the family farm he once ran. He went to Fairmont with his daughter Kristy. And, he went to the Elmore City Council meeting at 6:30 that evening with Sharon.

“We took the golf cart to the meeting and back home,” says his wife, Sharon. “We even gave the mayor a ride down the alleys so he could see how bad they were.”

They arrived home before 8:30 p.m. Elton went to his easy chair in one room and Sharon checked the computer and TV in another room, looking for the weather report, as storms were possible.

“I went to tell him there was a storm warning for Iowa, near us,” she says. “It was just 15 minutes after we had gotten home, like 8:45.”

Sharon found her husband had vomited and was unresponsive in the chair. She tried to rouse him and yelled at him that she was going to call 911, which she did.

“Our new (Elmore) cop, Josh Crofton, was the first one here, like in a minute,” Sharon says. “And Terry and the others were right behind him.”

‘Terry’ is Terry Jagerson, one of the Elmore First Responders who also just happens to be the Rhoda’s son-in-law. The ‘others’ were Elmore First Responders Chris Sullivan, Melanie Garlick and Kelly Bromeland.

“We got Elton on the floor and Terry got his shirt off,” says Sullivan, explaining what happened in the next few seconds. “He (Elton) had three agonal breaths (a gasping kind of breath, sometimes called guppy breathing) and then quit breathing. Terry started chest compressions and I applied the AED (defibrillator).”

They were trying to revive Elton when the United Hospital District Ambulance and its EMTs arrived, in what was described as just minutes later.

Brooke Kral and Mike Songstad were the two UHD ambulance crew members who ran into the Rhoda home.

“Elton took one little breath as we came in,” says Kral. “And quit. Mike took over CPR. I got the Lucas machine out and got the compressions going.”

Lucas is a machine that goes over the victim’s chest, with a board underneath and the machine does the chest compressions that once were done manually.

“It isn’t gentle,” Kral says, and Elton agrees, showing off the marks it left on his chest. “But it is better than doing it manually, which is hard to do with only a two-person crew.”

But, Elton did not have a pulse and was not breathing on his own.

“I think he took one breath on his own just as we were coming into the ER in Blue Earth,” Songstad said. “But we did get a pulse briefly in the ambulance.”

The nurses and the ER doctor worked on Rhoda and within a few minutes his pulse was back.

“Brooke got the IGEL breathing tube down Elton’s throat,” Songstad says. “It holds the tongue back and makes it easier for the patient to breathe on his own.”

When he heard that, Elton said he now knew why his throat has been so sore for the past week.

The plan was for Elton to go by helicopter to Mankato, but the storm Sharon had heard about had hit the area and he went by Gold Cross ambulance instead. They arrived at the Mankato hospital just a few minutes after midnight.

“He was in ICU until Thursday and then spent Friday in a regular hospital room,” Sharon explains. “Then on Saturday (May 13) he came back to UHD.”

One of the nurses greeted him with, “Oh my God! You’re alive!” They could hardly believe he was breathing, much less up and walking around.

He was still at UHD last Wednesday night, May 17, when this interview occurred. He was hoping to be released and head for home last Friday, May 19.

That is less than two weeks after being, for all intents and purposes, deceased.

He still has to build his strength back. And, with being without a pulse for so long, there was a fear of brain damage. But, doctors say there is not too much, although he will have some therapy in his future.

His wife, Sharon, and the rest of his family, knows full well why he is still alive.

So does his doctor at UHD, Aaron Johnson.

“There is only one reason Elton is still alive, and that is because of these people right here, the Elmore First Responders and the UHD ambulance crew,” Dr. Johnson says. “What they did in those first few minutes was critical. We are so fortunate that Faribault County has more EMS units than any other county. And, that there are three Lucas units in this county.”

Elton says he really has no memory of anything after the golf cart ride home, until he woke up in the hospital in Mankato.

And, he says he did not really have any vision of heaven, since technically he died on the way from Elmore to Blue Earth.

Not like the first time he died. Yes, that’s right. This was his second time.

The first one was on Feb. 22, 18 years ago. He was the first person to ride as a patient after suffering a heart attack.

At the ER he was technically dead, but Dr. John Anderson brought him back from the dead, and used a new thing back then called a TPA – clot buster, to do it.

“I saw the Pearly Gates, lots of trees and birds, it was very pretty and nice,” Rhoda says. “But this time, nothing.”

Sharon Rhoda says she will be forever grateful for the people who came to her house on May 8 and saved her husband.

“We really appreciate them, and having them in our community,” she says. “It is wonderful.”

The EMTs says it is just part of the job. And saving a life is one of the best parts of the job, and the big reason they do what they do.

“We always have a need for more people,” Kral says, a sentiment echoed by her fellow emergency medical staff. “Since this is EMS week, we really want to ask everyone to consider joining us.”

Who knows, you, too, could be out saving lives like that of Elton Rhoda, the man with nine lives.