“It was absolute luck.”

Jode Lebeda said he was in the right place at the right time when he collapsed during the ASICS Los Angeles Marathon on March 9.

The 28-year-old, running in his first — and as he said, “almost my last” marathon — dropped to the ground in full cardiac arrest just after mile 20. It was indeed luck that he had this life-threatening episode near one of the medical tents staffed by the official medical sponsor of the marathon — Keck Medicine of USC.

Jatin Shah, MD, a Keck Medicine of USC emergency medicine physician volunteering at one of the tents, was on the scene in a heartbeat. Along with Los Angeles Fire Department staff assigned to the marathon, Shah stabilized Lebeda, who was then transported to Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, where he spent 10 days — some of them in a medically induced coma — in the neurointensive care unit while he recuperated from the effects of acute dehydration. On April 21, Lebeda got the chance to meet and thank Shah and his other rescuers at a press conference at the Los Angeles Fire Department Station 3 in downtown Los Angeles.

“The weather went up to 81 degrees and in afternoon we saw many more people with cramps and dehydration,” said Shah after the press conference. “It’s rare for someone to have a heart attack during the marathon. But when people over- exert themselves in those conditions, it’s not surprising when they get into trouble.”

Since 2012, Keck Medicine of USC has staffed 12 medical tents along the 26/2 mile course route for exactly this reason. To meet medical needs that included dehydration, blisters, and joint- and foot-pain, 197 volunteer physicians, nurses and residents with experience in emergency medicine were available.

“In a great city like Los Angeles, it takes teamwork to make a valuable event like the LA Marathon happen and to ensure the safety of its participants,” said Glenn Ault, MD, medical director of the ASICS LA Marathon and associate dean of clinical administration, Keck School of Medicine of USC. “I think I can speak for everyone when I say we’re all pleased with the outcome.”

At the end of the press conference, Dr. Ault presented Lebeda with an official marathon finisher’s medal, for his courage and determination to complete the most important journey of his life.

—Leslie Ridgeway