2009-02-14 / Top News

Islander Larry Parel Now Back to Health Following Rare Medical Crisis

By Ryan Schlehuber

Larry Parel, holding his walking stick, is all smiles now, having recovered from a near-death experience in November. He suffered a heart attack, a seizure, and a stroke all at once at his Edgewood duplex home on Mackinac Island. He continues to walk almost five miles a day. Larry Parel, holding his walking stick, is all smiles now, having recovered from a near-death experience in November. He suffered a heart attack, a seizure, and a stroke all at once at his Edgewood duplex home on Mackinac Island. He continues to walk almost five miles a day. He's being called the "Miracle Man of Mackinac."

Suffering a heart attack, a seizure, and a stroke, all at once, Larry Parel lay unconscious on the bathroom floor with a bleeding head and his body burning against a baseboard heater for almost three days.

"I'm a pretty lucky person," said the Mackinac Island resident, who is looking forward to celebrating his 67th birthday Saturday, February 28.

His near-death experience is even more miraculous when considering his heart stopped four times throughout his ordeal on a gray, windy, snowy November 19.

"The last thing I remember was lifting my leg as I was stepping out of the shower," said Mr. Parel.

If not for his friend, Stanley Gugin, Mr. Parel would not have survived another day. He lay on the floor naked, bleeding, and unconscious for two-and-ahalf days before Mr. Gugin found him.

"I was there a day or two before and hadn't seen him walking or anything," said Mr. Gugin. "Well, it bothered me that he had left things on at his house. He never did that, so I decided to go check on him.

"Halfway up his stairs, I had that bad feeling."

Walking up to the second story of Mr. Parel's Edgewood duplex, Mr. Gugin called out for his friend and heard nothing but silence. Opening the bathroom door, he saw his friend, unresponsive, lying on the floor in a pool of blood from his head, which he had hit as he fell.

Mr. Gugin ran next door to Will St. Onge's house and told him to call 9-1-1, and waited by Mr. Parel's side as an ambulance made its way up Cadotte Avenue to the northern edge of the Harrisonville residential area.

Mr. Parel was rushed to the Mackinac Island Medical Center, where he was treated by the medical staff, who determined he needed attention beyond the Medical Center's capabilities. The U.S. Coast Guard was called at 1:15 p.m. for a medical evacuation.

A medical evacuation helicopter was unable to reach the Island owing to bad weather, and there were no passenger ferry departures to the mainland at that time, so the Coast Guard's rescue boat was the only option the medical staff had to get Mr. Parel to the mainland.

By 2:15 p.m., a four-man Coast Guard crew arrived on a 47-foot lifeboat at the Yoder dock by the marina. With two Island emergency medical technicians (EMTs) aboard to keep Mr. Parel stabilized, the boat headed to the mainland, where Mr. Parel would be transferred to Mackinac Straits Hospital in St. Ignace.

John Tribfelner, one of the crew members on the Coast Guard's lifeboat that day, had seen similar incidents before. Mr. Parel's medical evacuation was one of 10 runs the lifeboat had made during 2008.

Mr. Tribfelner said the Coast Guard rarely hears how the patient fares afterward, so "it's nice to know he's doing well," he said of Mr. Parel.

EMTs had to resuscitate Mr. Parel twice during the choppy ride across Lake Huron to the Coast Guard dock at St. Ignace, where an ambulance was ready to transfer him to the hospital.

"The EMTs were getting seasick because of the choppy ride," said Mr. Tribfelner, pointing out the degree of difficulty the EMTs faced as the life of Mr. Parel seemed to be slipping away before them.

Mr. Parel would be resuscitated twice more during his transfer by ambulance from Mackinac Straits Hospital to Northern Michigan Regional Hospital in Petoskey.

"When I finally woke up I was strapped to a stretcher wearing 'boxer gloves' at the hospital in Petoskey," he said.

The "boxer gloves" were restraining gloves put on his hands to keep him from pulling at intravenous therapy lines and other medical cords attached to him. Mr. Parel was disoriented.

He had to undergo plastic surgery for the burn he suffered from lying against the bathroom heater for so long. Doctors said that had he lain there any longer, the burn would have gone clear to the bone, and he would have died from exposure, if nothing else.

Mr. Parel spent 33 days hospitalized, part of that time at Mackinac Straits Hospital.

During his recovery, he lost more than 20 pounds.

He returned home December 22.

Today, the only signs that show what he suffered are a lighter step and the four kinds of pills he now takes twice a day.

To his doctors' astonishment, he has no partial paralysis, no speech impediment, and no heart damage. He has also now regained 15 pounds.

Just as he always has, Mr. Parel enjoys daily walks through town and is looking forward to continuing his job as Grand Hotel doorman, and is busy scheduling lectures he gives at Island conferences about Mackinac Island and its history.

"The karma I have received from callers across the country, Islanders who came and visited me, the many cards and gifts I received, all of that was what really helped me recover," he said. "There's no better medicine like that in a bottle, that's for sure."

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