Osage Co. teen shares comeback from sudden cardiac arrest

Chad Robert, now 16, collapsed during warmups for a high school football game. His family says he survived thanks to quick action from many people.
Published: Feb. 23, 2023 at 10:27 PM CST
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TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - Damar Hamlin’s collapse on the football field hit home for an Osage Co. teen and his family.

Chad Robert, now 16, collapsed during warmups for a high school football game Oct. 28, 2021. He doesn’t remember what happened.

“Last thing I remember was eating pulled pork before we got 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 type of call parents fear.

“(We were) admiring a rainbow out the window, taking pictures when all of a sudden my cell phone rings,” Jennifer said. “It was an assistant coach on the Santa Fe Trail football team saying we’ve got a medical emergency with your son and we need permission to treat him on the field.”

Chad, then a sophomore, fell to the ground, started seizing, then went into cardiac arrest. Coaches, first responders, and people in the stands jumped in to help.

“It kept progressing. They’re doing CPR, and then they’re 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 waiting, including extra nurses, respiratory therapy and phlebotomists.

“I want to make sure I have all my support staff at bedside to do what I need to do,” she said.

Dr. Schwartz said that quick response - which started on the field - is vital to survival.

“If we don’t have our heart pumping blood then none of our organs can function and we don’t have any brain activity,” she said.

After two days at 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 my dad next to me and they tried walking me through what happened, but it was mind blowing,” Chad said.

Doctors did a wide range of testing and can find no reason for what happened. Chad had not sustained a hit and was healthy up to that point. At the time, he had not received a COVID vaccine. He did have the virus a few months earlier, but doctors didn’t find evidence it was connected.

With no real answers, Chad began the slow process of recovering.

“It was tough,” Chad said. “Many sad days, many days when I was told I couldn’t do anything ever again physically.”

After consulting with Mayo Clinic, the team at Children’s implanted a defibrillator just under the skin on Chad’s left side, with leads in his chest. With that, no signs of permanent heart damage, and a specialized shirt with padding to protect the device, doctors cleared Chad to step on the baseball field last spring.

“It felt really good, felt back at home,” he said.

“We were just so happy to just have him out there physically participating and being a normal kid because that was the goal for us all along - just get him back to doing what he loves to do,” Jennifer said.

From baseball, Chad opted not to do football this past fall, but did return to the basketball court. His family says they can’t begin to count everyone to whom they are grateful.

“The list is long,” Jennifer said. “God got us through it, and our faith is strong, but there were so many people in the community - the doctors, the first responders, the coaches, our community has rallied around us and Chad.”

“(We’re) grateful for all the people who were there to take care of Chad and knew what to do, and grateful that God watched over him and took care of him through all of this,” Daniel said.

Both Jennifer and Daniel, as well as Dr. Schwartz say they are amazed by how well Chad is doing.

“Sick patients come into the ER every day and I get them whisked away to the ICU or where ever they’re going and I don’t ever see what happens to them long-term outcome,” Dr. Schwartz said. “It’s heartwarming, it’s wonderful to hear that he had a great outcome.”

Chad’s family says they’re sharing their story so people know how vital it is to get automatic external defibrillators in as many places as possible and for everyone to take a CPR class. Dr. Schwartz reinforced that message.

“The more people that know how to do bystander CPR, if somebody goes down, loses a pulse, we’re able to start CPR right away. That’s the most importing thing,” she said.

“(We want people) to have that awareness and not be afraid to get involved if it’s needed,” Jennifer said. “If everybody had just stood there, Chad would have been dead had they not jumped in and done something.”

“That’s 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 many lives.”

Stormont partners 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’s no sign of any problems.

The American Heart Association says it saw a 620-percent increase in views to its hands-only CPR pages after Damar Hamlin’s collapse.

The American Heart Association offers many resources for learning CPR. You can view a training video here. They also posted a training video in Spanish here. Find other resources about CPR by clicking here.