DENVER — Mike Hermanstorfer was clutching his pregnant wife's hand in a Colorado hospital on Christmas Eve when she stopped breathing, her life apparently slipping away. Then he cradled his newborn son's limp body seconds after a medical team delivered the baby by Cesarean section.
Minutes later he saw his son show signs of life in his arms under the feverish attention of doctors, and soon he learned his wife had inexplicably started breathing again.
"My legs went out from underneath me," Hermanstorfer said Tuesday. "I had everything in the world taken from me, and in an hour and a half I had everything given to me."
Hermanstorfer's wife, Tracy, went into cardiac arrest and stopped breathing during labor on Thursday, said Stephanie Martin, a maternal fetal medicine specialist at Memorial Hospital in Colorado Springs, where the Hermanstorfers had gone for the birth of their son.
"She had no signs of life. No heartbeat, no blood pressure, she wasn't breathing," said Martin, who had rushed to Hermanstorfer's room to help. "The baby was, it was basically limp, with a very slow heart rate."
After their recovery, both mother and the baby, named Coltyn, appear healthy with no signs of problems, Martin said.
She said she cannot explain the mother's cardiac arrest or the recovery.
"We did a thorough evaluation and can't find anything that explains why this happened," she said.
Mike Hermanstorfer credits "the hand of God."
"We are both believers ... but this right here, even a nonbeliever — you explain to me how this happened. There is no other explanation," he said.
Asked about divine intervention, Martin said, "Wherever I can get the help, I'll take it."
Tracy Hermanstorfer, 33, was getting prepped for childbirth at the hospital Thursday morning and her 37-year-old husband was by her side when she began to feel sleepy and laid back in her bed.
"She literally stopped breathing and her heart stopped," her husband said. Pandemonium erupted as doctors and nurses tried to revive her with chest compressions and a breathing tube, but nothing worked.
"I was holding her hand when we realized she was gone," Hermanstorfer said. "My entire life just rolled out."
Doctors told him, "We're going to take your son out now. We have been unable to revive her and we're going to take your son out," he recalled.
After the Cesarean section, some of the team rushed his wife to the operating room while the others attended to Coltyn.
"They hand him to me, he's absolutely lifeless," Hermanstorfer said. The doctors went to work on Coltyn as Hermanstorfer held him, and soon he began to breathe.
"His life began in my hands," Hermanstorfer said. "That's a feeling like none other. Life actually began in the palm of my hands."
Martin said Tracy Hermanstorfer's pulse returned even before she was wheeled out of the room and into surgery. She estimates Hermanstorfer had no heartbeat for about four minutes.
Hermanstorfer remembers getting sleepy and closing her eyes in her hospital bed, then awakening in the intensive care unit.
Friends have asked if she saw a light or had other experiences described by others who have survived near-death experiences, but she didn't.
"I just felt like I was asleep," she said.
When doctors told her what happened, "I'm like, 'Holy cow, was it that bad? Wow.' "
Both Mike and Tracy Hermanstorfer worry that she might have a recurrence. Martin said she can't offer the Hermanstorfers much advice because she doesn't know what caused the original problem.
On Tuesday, the couple celebrated a delayed Christmas with their 3-year-old son Kanyen and Tracy Hermanstorfer's 11-year-old son, Austin, from her previous marriage.
She plans to tell Coltyn about his birth when he's old enough to understand.