When Dr. Theodore Strange heard a faint call for help, his instincts kicked in and the ensuing story is nothing short of incredible.
It’s rare when you can find someone who finishes the grueling 26.2 miles of a marathon and yet, that’s not even his most impressive accomplishment of the day. But that’s exactly what happened on Nov. 4 for internal medicine specialist Theodore Strange, M.D.
The New York Knicks and Tissot’s “Gift of Time” program was created to honor community leaders who go above and beyond. Dr. Strange was honored on Saturday when the Knicks took on the Brooklyn Nets in Madison Square Garden. But after hearing Dr. Strange and Kristina Elfering’s story, the game felt far less important in the grand scheme of things.
The doctor from Staten Island was making his way up 59th street when he heard a strange call for help. It’s almost a miracle in itself that Dr. Strange was able to hear the call for help with the raucous New York City crowd cheering on the runners.
But he heard it nonetheless. “There was an angel or somebody on my shoulder,” Dr. Strange told ESNY. He located the cry for help and saw a runner who had gone down. It wasn’t out of the ordinary to see a runner go down during a marathon. Dr. Strange thought the woman, Kristina Elfering, a Civil Engineer from North Oaks, Minnesota, had suffered a fainting spell or began cramping up.
But he quickly realized that something was amiss. This was more serious than cramps.
“I realized right away she wasn’t breathing and then I went and felt for a pulse and I just – it was instinctive at that point.”
The Staten Island resident sprung into action. Dr. Strange let the police and EMS know that he was a physician and he needed a defibrillator.
“To me, this was just now, everything that I learned over 35 years was right there in front of me and it just came back and we defibrillated her four times. And we were breathing for her and we were doing CPR on her and the fourth time she finally regained a pulse. She never regained consciousness, but she regained a pulse.”
That was enough for Dr. Strange, police, and EMS to feel comfortable sending her in the ambulance to be rushed to the hospital.
At that point, the man who was performing CPR on Elfering just moments earlier realized he was still in the middle of running a marathon. Furthermore, his wife and kids were waiting ahead for him and they were tracking his progress. His prolonged stop would worry his family so he did the only thing that made sense.
He kept running.
He ran all the way to his family and broke down. The sheer emotion of the moment was just starting to hit him. He was in a state of shock.
Upon finishing the marathon, Dr. Strange’s thoughts immediately rushed back to Elfering. He didn’t even think to grab his medal. As a physician, he’s used to following his patients and knowing exactly what is going on. But unfortunately, police and medical personnel at the finish line didn’t have any answers as to Elfering’s status.
“As a physician, you always follow the patient through. Now I don’t have that.”
But he continued to press for answers, reaching out to a cousin who had connections within EMS.
“Ten minutes later he found out and said she was in New York Hospital. Monday morning I get a call from my cousin who said, ‘Ted, I want to let you know the woman’s doing OK.'”
By then, everyone wanted to know who saved Elfering’s life. Dr. Strange seemed hesitant to take the spotlight, but his family, friends, and anyone who caught wind of the story wouldn’t let that stand. The news broke after his daughter contacted a local paper and the rest is history.
Although Dr. Strange was not seeking the spotlight, he deserves every bit of it. He saved a life and played the role of the Good Samaritan at a time when someone needed a hero.
“It is odd because this is part of what I do and although it’s not what I do on 59th and 1st Avenue, it feels good. I mean it’s a nice feeling. I hope the story is about people helping people.”