TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW)-Damar Hamlin’s collapse on the soccer field hit home with an Osage Co. teenager and his family.
Chad Robert, now 16, collapsed during warmups for a high school football game on October 28, 2021. He doesn’t remember what happened.
“The last thing I remember was eating pulled pork before getting on the bus to go to the game,” he said.
His parents, Jennifer and Daniel, were on their way to the game in Holton when they got the kind of call parents dread.
“(We were) admiring a rainbow outside the window, taking pictures when all of a sudden my cell phone rings,” said Jennifer. “It was an assistant coach on the Santa Fe Trail football team saying we have a medical emergency with your son and need permission to treat him on the field.”
Chad, then a sophomore, fell to the floor, started having seizures, then went into cardiac arrest. Coaches, first responders and people in the stands stepped in to help.
“It has continued to progress. They’re doing CPR and then shocking him with the AED,” Jennifer said.
The family followed the ambulance to Stormont Vail, where Emergency Medicine Dr. Lindsay Schwartz was on duty and had a team on standby, including extra nurses, respiratory therapy and phlebotomists.
“I want to make sure I have all my bedside support staff to do what I have to do,” she said.
Dr. Schwartz said a rapid response, initiated in the field, is vital for survival.
“If we don’t have our heart pumping blood, none of our organs can function and we don’t have any brain activity,” he said.
After two days in Stormont, Chad was transferred to Children’s Mercy in Kansas City for further evaluation. He woke up there two days later, four days after he collapsed.
“I saw my mom and dad next to me and they tried to tell me what happened, but it was mind blowing,” Chad said.
Doctors have run a variety of tests and can’t find any reason for what happened. Chad hadn’t suffered a stroke and was in good health up to that point. At the time, he had not received a COVID vaccine. He had the virus a few months earlier, but doctors found no evidence it was related.
With no real answers, Chad began the slow recovery process.
“It was tough,” Chad said. “Many sad days, many days where I was told I couldn’t physically do anything anymore.”
After consulting with the Mayo Clinic, the Children’s team implanted a defibrillator just under the skin on Chad’s left side, with leads in his chest. With that, no sign of permanent heart damage, and a special shirt with padding to protect the device, doctors cleared Chad to stomp the ballpark this past spring.
“It was really nice, it felt like home again,” she said.
“We were so happy to have him out there physically participating and being a normal kid because that was the goal for us from the beginning — to get him back to doing what he loves to do,” Jennifer said.
Since baseball, Chad opted not to play football last fall but returned to the basketball court. His family says they can’t begin to count everyone they’re grateful for.
“The list is long,” said Jennifer. “God helped us through all of this and our faith is strong, but there were so many people in the community: the doctors, the first responders, the coaches, our community rallied around us and Chad.”
“(We are) thankful to all the people who were there to care for Chad and knew what to do, and thankful that God watched over him and took care of him through it all,” Daniel said.
Both Jennifer and Daniel, as well as Dr. Schwartz, say they are amazed at how well Chad is doing.
“Sick patients come to the emergency room every day and I have them taken away to the ICU or wherever they’re going and I never see what happens to them in the long term,” said Dr. Schwartz. “It’s heartwarming, it’s wonderful to know that he had such a great result.”
Chad’s family says they are sharing their story so people know how vital it is to have automated external defibrillators in as many places as possible and that everyone can take CPR training. Dr. Schwartz reinforced that message.
“More people know how to do bystander CPR, if someone goes down, loses their pulse, we’re able to start CPR right away. This is the most important thing,” she said.
“(We want people) to have that awareness and not be afraid to get involved if needed,” Jennifer said. “If everyone had just stood there, Chad would have died if they hadn’t jumped in and done something about it.”
“This is obviously what saved my life and saves many other people’s lives every day,” Chad said. “Things like this happen and it’s important to be prepared. The right people with the right equipment at the right time can save lives.”
Stormont works with both Children’s Mercy and Mayo Clinic on specialized cases, like Chad’s.
Chad’s device downloads information to his doctors once a week and he continues regular follow-ups. So far there are no signs of problems.
The American Heart Association says it saw a 620% increase in views of its CPR pages for hands alone after the Damar Hamlin meltdown.
The American Heart Association offers many resources for learning about CPR. You can view a training video here. They have also posted a training video in Spanish here. Find more CPR resources by clicking here.