FARGO — Dr. Gerald Kiedrowski was a member of the medical team that revived an 11-year-old boy who was submerged for 45 minutes in the icy water of the Red River in 1987.
Kiedrowski was an emergency room physician at the former St. Luke’s Hospital and restarted the heart of Alvaro Garza, a Moorhead boy who fell through the ice and was fished out of the frigid waters by emergency responders.
The boy's core body temperature had fallen to 77 degrees. His blood was warmed by a heart-and-lung machine.
In an uncanny second act four years later, while vacationing in Norway, Kiedrowski pulled a 10-year-old girl from the submerged hull of a capsized sailboat and saved her life by performing mouth-to-mouth resuscitation while the girl was taken by lifeboat to shore.
“My dad was a hero,” said Megan Kiedrowski Bisers-Espelien on Sunday, Oct. 24. Gerald Kiedrowski died Saturday at age 72 at Sanford Broadway Medical Center of COVID-19, she said.
Just before he was intubated, realizing that his illness was serious enough that he might not survive, Kiedrowski left a consoling note for his family. His wife, Marilyn, discovered the note on Kiedrowski’s cell phone on Sunday, hours after his death.
“Do not be sad,” the note said. “I’m going to heaven. I’m going to be playing golf with my dad.”
Kiedrowski was a modest man who gave the credit for his healing hands to God, his daughter said.
“He would say, ‘God wanted him to be alive and he was just His tool,” Bisers-Espelien said, recalling her father’s reaction to helping save Garza’s life. “He was very humble.”
His reaction was the same after he saved the Norwegian girl. While others held his ankles, he was able to reach her, untangle her hair, and lift her out of the water.
“I have to convince the others that there was still hope,” Kiedrowski told a Norwegian newspaper in 1991.
Able to speak Norwegian, Kiedrowski told the others at the scene of the drowning that he was a doctor and could help. “Again, he believed God had him in that place,” Bisers-Espelien said.
The family of the Norwegian girl, now a grown woman 30 years after the boating accident, has kept in touch with Kiedrowski, calling him every year to give thanks. Kiedrowski had planned to meet the family for the first time next year, his daughter said.
“He was grateful that he could make a difference and save another life,” Bisers-Espelien said. “That’s why he became a doctor.”
After spending years practicing medicine in Fargo, Kiedrowski moved to St. Cloud, where he was an urgent care doctor for 10 years before returning to Fargo in 2015 to be near family. He kept working part-time at the VA Medical Center until his illness.
“He never retired,” Bisers-Espelien said.
To better communicate with his patients, Kiedrowski learned multiple languages, most recently Somali. He spoke German and Russian fluently, she said.
Kiedrowski was dedicated to his family and to his patients, even making house calls for members of his congregation, Grace City Church.
“He always had a passion for people,” Bisers-Espelien said. “In a way, he could see in people’s souls, I think.”
Her father tended to his family’s medical needs, never more dramatically than when Bisers-Espelien suffered an accidental gunshot wound to her neck that could have been fatal. Her father, who had gone deer hunting, left open his gun case, and a childhood friend accidentally shot her.
Kiedrowski flew home that night and assisted in the operating room, twice resuscitating his daughter and, she believes, saving her life. “He took over,” Bisers-Espelien said.
The bullet severed her spine, a paralyzing wound that left her in a wheelchair. Her father gave her support and encouragement that got her through a lengthy recuperation and therapy.
Kiedrowski, who was born in the Twin Cities suburb of Richfield, Minn., spent most of his medical career in Fargo. Besides St. Luke’s, now Sanford Health, he worked at the former St. John’s Hospital and St. Ansgar Hospital in Moorhead.
Devoutly religious, Kiedrowski was a member of the Gideon Society, which distributes Bibles.
He is survived by his wife, Marilyn, eight children from two marriages and 27 grandchildren. Funeral arrangements are pending with Korsmo Funeral Services.