Chad Barlow played professional basketball overseas for five years after going undrafted. He loved each and every minute. But by the time he’d finished his fifth season, though, he and his wife had three children, and it was time to come back home to the states.
Life happened. He got a regular job, grew older, and watched his children. But he never stopped playing basketball. He joined some competitive leagues with other players who had played in college. But over time, he got slower and couldn’t jump quite as well. But that didn’t stop him.
When Chad was in his mid-forties, he was playing for a competitive rec league with seven other players. They had played together for five years, except for one player that was added the year before. They knew each other well and their families and were having a lot of fun. They won most of their games but lost plenty too.
The fourth game of the weekend was going better than Chad had expected. He was running up and down the court, hitting shots, and felt like he was getting his legs back after a cold two weeks before. During the third quarter, however, he felt suddenly like he had lost the ability to breathe. His team called a time-out, and he was helped to the bench. Initially, it was thought that he needed a few minutes to catch his breath. The new guy, Ted, jumped in, and the game continued. Chad slumped to the floor two minutes later, and the entire team rushed forward.
Ted cried, “Someone, call an ambulance.”
“Does anyone know where the AED is?” asked the team’s coach.
“I do,” said someone from the stands.
The AED, or automated external defibrillator, was immediately brought over to where Chad lay on the court. Other players, including Ted, had checked for a pulse, and after finding none, started CPR. Chest compressions were continued until the AED was set into place.
Lisa, Chad’s wife, rushed over hysterically. “What’s happening?” she demanded.
“Chad isn’t breathing,” a friend explained. “They called an ambulance and started CPR. He might have had a heart attack.”
“I can’t believe this is happening,” said Lisa.
Those helping with the situation followed the directions on the AED and placed pads directly on Chad’s chest. The AED analyzed the heart rhythm and determined that a shock was advised.
The AED delivered a shock, but nothing happened. The heart didn’t start, and there was still no pulse. CPR was started again.
Lisa asked, “What does that mean?”
“We need the ambulance to get here as soon as possible,” said the coach.
The ambulance arrived only a few minutes later. Paramedics ran in, assessed the scene, and knew that Chad needed to be transported. He was transferred into their care and onto a gurney, all while CPR continued. An IV was placed in his arm, and medications were given.
On the ride to the hospital, Chad was shocked two more times. CPR continued for the entire time. Approximately twenty-eight minutes after Chad initially went down, the paramedics felt a faint pulse. This was a good thing, but there were still plenty of things that needed to be done.
At the hospital, the emergency room staff and cardiologist were ready for his arrival. Chad was brought into the hospital room and immediately underwent assessment and evaluation. It took an hour to get testing done, blood work, and an angiogram of the heart. This scan looks at the blood flow going in and out of the heart, including arteries or veins. Often heart blocks are seen. It helps to know if a stent needs to be placed. Without oxygen, the tissue of the heart or brain can be damaged. Other parts of the body are affected as well.
Chad was finally stabilized but did not wake up and was in a coma. When someone is in this situation, after having suffered cardiac arrest, they’re much more likely to have another heart attack or a stroke. Chad was placed on several medications and transferred to a portion of the hospital where he could be monitored.
Family and friends arrived to see how Chad was doing. His coach, teammates, and family were in shock. It became quickly known that Chad didn’t have a personal or family history of cardiac problems. He wasn’t taking any medications that would put him at risk or were used to treat a cardiac history.
Doctor Filmore came to Chad’s wife, Lisa, and their children and explained the risks and the possible outcomes. Although Chad was stable, he wasn’t out of the woods by any means. Additionally, they couldn’t predict how Chad would be if and when he recovered.
On the second day of his coma, it was decided that Chad needed additional and more advanced treatment. There was no way to know how he would be affected by the lack of oxygenated blood going to his brain. It was good that he received CPR so quickly, but Doctor Filmore and others decided that Chad would undergo Therapeutic Hypothermia.
Doctor Filmore explained to Chad’s wife the benefits of this treatment. She agreed immediately for them to proceed.
Therapeutic Hypothermia pushes Chad’s temperature to 92 degrees. It’s attempting to help Chad’s brain and prevent any further damage. Over the next few days, Chad received this treatment and was given IV fluids, electrolytes, and additional medications.
A brain scan showed that Chad’s brain had some swelling. This was likely from the initial cardiac event and some of the treatment he received. By dropping the temperature, the doctors were hopeful it would reverse the swelling and reduce the risk factors for seizures and other problems.
Chad awoke from his coma on the tenth day. His wife and one of his children were in the room.
“Where am I?” asked Chad. He glanced around the hospital room as if he’d been on a different planet. Lisa and his son rushed forward to calm Chad.
“At the hospital,” replied Lisa. “You’re going to be fine.”
“You had a heart attack on the court.”
“Are you joking?”
Lisa was crying. She couldn’t say anything, but she started to cry.
Ricky, their middle child, explained what happened as Doctor Filmore was called for a full assessment.
Dr. Filmore asked, “What do you remember?”
“I ate oatmeal, bacon, and eggs for breakfast,” said Chad.
Dr. Filmore laughed. In truth, Chad suffered some significant memory loss. But as Dr. Filmore explained, “It’s great that he can talk, move his extremities, and remember some of what happened. A slight memory problem isn’t unexpected.”
“What happened to me?” asked Chad an hour later. Lisa had to explain everything all over again.
“Can I play basketball again?” asked Chad.
Dr. Filmore said, “We really don’t know. You’ve done far better than we could have hoped. You didn’t have a pulse for almost thirty minutes. That often means that we don’t expect quite as good of an outcome.”
“But what about basketball?”
“It all depends on how your body reacts to treatment and therapy, and it will take time to understand what, if any, damage there was to your heart.”
“What other problems could I have?”
“Many,” said Dr. Filmore. “In truth, if this was five or ten years ago, you probably wouldn’t have survived. The Therapeutic Hypothermia was a game changer for you. We preserved your tissues by lowering your temperature. It was a miracle.”
Chad was released from the hospital ten days later. He had a dozen new medications but was told that if things progressed, he would get off most of them. He had significant memory issues for several months and even longer. One of the unique things was that he couldn’t remember the name of his youngest daughter for the longest time. He left the hospital in a wheelchair, though he was encouraged to walk as much as possible. He had trouble flexing and extending his left foot for almost a year and had to wear a brace. It only slightly affected his walk.
Today, Chad is doing well. He loves to shoot the basket, but he will never play in a competitive league again. He has his heart checked out every six months. He takes his medications and feels lucky to have survived his heart attack.