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Runner raising funds for cancer patients saved after going into cardiac arrest

AMERICAN FORK — Carl Gallegos loves to run to have fun and stay healthy.

On Saturday, he participated in the American Fork Canyon Half Marathon to help patients pay for their cancer treatment. That race ended up saving his life.

Gallegos, 57, runs to reduce stress. He runs as a way to get exercise and control his heart disease. He had his first heart attack 13 years ago and a second one five years ago.

Gallegos typically runs 10 miles along the river trail near his home on Saturdays. On June 15, while participating in a half marathon, he went into cardiac arrest.

“I’m glad it was there that I was running the American Fork (Canyon) Half Marathon, rather than my usual route,” he said.

Gallegos finished the race in one hour, 56 minutes and then collapsed. He said he doesn’t remember much about what happened.

“The race started,” Gallegos said. “I was pacing about eight-minute miles. I was feeling great.”

But two blocks from the finish line, he started feeling faint. He paused for a moment, cleared his mind and then started walking again.

“I walked for about a block. I wanted to run across the finish line, so I ran across the finish line,” he said with a smile on his face.

Gallegos finished the half marathon, grabbed his medal and a water bottle. Then a race volunteer asked him if he was OK. He said he needed help, and then he passed out.

Lori Bertelsen, a race volunteer and nurse administrator at American Fork Hospital, was at the finish line making sure the runners were not dehydrated or suffering from cramps. She heard a volunteer say they needed help. She ran to Gallegos' side and quickly assessed the situation.

“At that point, he didn’t have a heartbeat and had stopped breathing,” Bertelsen said.

Another runner, an anesthesiologist from out of state, helped stabilize Gallegos’ airway and Bertelsen performed CPR. They were able to stabilize him very quickly. He was rushed to the hospital, where tests revealed he had three blockages in his heart. He underwent triple bypass surgery on Tuesday.

When asked how he was feeling Friday, he replied with a smile on his face, “I could feel better, but I’m here.”

Gallegos said he's grateful he met Bertelsen.

“I just appreciate Lori so much, you just can’t imagine,” he said.

Bertelsen was glad she could help. She said being there was a blessing.

“I wouldn’t have crossed paths with this great family otherwise,” she said.

Bertelsen also praised Gallegos' character.

“One of the things that Carl said that I thought was really telling of what his character is, after he told me his name, ‘Find my wife.’ He was really concerned about her and wanted to know where she was and that she understand what was going on,” she said.

Gallegos’ wife, Joce, was at the finish line. She had taken pictures of him and was cheering him on, but she was looking for him to be standing up and running and not on the ground, Bertelsen said.

Gallegos has to take things easy for the next four weeks, and then he starts rehabilitation. He said it’s probably going to be six months until he’s fully recovered.

“I hope I get to run again,” he said enthusiastically. “That’s what I want to do. I want to run this again next year and will cross the finish line and say I didn’t faint.”

He told Bertelsen he may not run as fast next year, but he’s going to run it.

“I’m going to be at the finish line, and I’m going to watch you cross,” Bertelsen replied with a smile.