Kauai kayak adventure turns into fight for Utah man's life

(Courtesy: Shoff Family)
(Courtesy: Shoff Family)

HANALEI, KAUAI (HawaiiNewsNow) - Jake Shoff is from Utah. He and his wife Emily take their three sons to vacation in Hawaii often, but until this week, had never kayaked the Hanalei River.

"We've always wanted to kayak the Hanalei River, to go up past the bridge and up into the animal reserve, the bird refuge up there," Jake said.

On Tuesday morning, the Shoffs rented a pair of kayaks from Kayak Hanalei. On the trip back to the dock, Jake's kayak clipped a branch jutting over the water. He accidentally hit a wasps nest.

"They started to swarm," he says. "A lot of them."

Jake capsized his kayak for protection and pushed his family to the middle of the river, but the wasps kept coming. He knew he had been stung several times, but he was completely unprepared for what came next.

He didn't know it in the moment, but it turns out Jake is allergic to wasp stings.

He was stung seven times – three on the top of his head, once over his right eye, once his neck and once on his right hand.

"Moments later, I completely blacked out," he recalls.

Still in the water, Jake slipped into seizures and started foaming at the mouth. Eventually, he stopped breathing, suffering from anaphylactic shock. Emily, who's six months pregnant, held her husband's head above water.

"I was yelling, 'Breathe!' The kids were like, 'Daddy, breathe! Breathe!' We had to get him to breathe," she said.

Thankfully for the Shoffs, two women – Michelle Garcia and Pam Crooke – showed up at the scene. They jumped into the river and grabbed onto Jake, who's 6 feet, 8 inches tall.

"They literally put their lives on the line to save mine," Jake said

"They were able to maneuver him to keep his airway clear," Emily added.

While Emily called 911, the women jolted Jake whenever he stopped breathing.

"They were kneeing me. They were punching me. They were holding my head," he said.

First responders arrived and rushed Jake to the Wilcox Medical Center. He got to the emergency room 90 minutes after he was stung, and his wife says he stopped breathing several times.

"As soon as he got that last shot of adrenaline at the hospital, he came to," she says. "His vitals were amazing. Everyone said, 'This is a miracle.'"

The Shoffs say many people helped save Jake's life, including those who prayed for him as news spread on social media.

"I'm so grateful. I'm appreciative of everyone that was willing to help," he said.

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