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How a USU basketball player survived sudden cardiac arrest similar to NFL player

Then-Utah State University basketball player Danny Berger practices in Logan in this December 2012 photo. Berger lived through a similar experience as Buffalo Bills defensive back Damar Hamlin, collapsing during a practice in 2012.

Then-Utah State University basketball player Danny Berger practices in Logan in this December 2012 photo. Berger lived through a similar experience as Buffalo Bills defensive back Damar Hamlin, collapsing during a practice in 2012. (Laura Seitz, Deseret News)


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LOGAN — Danny Berger wasn't watching "Monday Night Football" but with about six minutes to go in the first quarter of the game he started getting messages on his phone from friends and family.

The game between the Buffalo Bills and the Cincinnati Bengals had come to a sudden halt after Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin collapsed after tackling Bengals wide receiver Tee Higgins. After the tackle, Hamlin stood up but suddenly fell to the ground after experiencing what NFL officials have since said was a cardiac arrest. Hamlin, 24, remains in a Cincinnati hospital where he is in critical condition.

Berger, a former basketball player for Utah State University, lived through a similar experience, collapsing during a practice in 2012.

Like Hamlin, Berger received immediate care from a team trainer and others, who performed CPR and shocked his heart with an automated external defibrillator. After being transported to a Logan hospital, Berger was flown to Intermountain Healthcare's hospital in Murray for care, which included implanting a cardiac defibrillator.

Berger said he doesn't remember anything about his collapse, other than waking up in the hospital with his arm in a sling to prevent it from moving while the leads to his implanted cardiac defibrillator healed.

"It's been 10 years since my save happened but I just think about all the people who were praying for me and hoping for me to get better. That's really what I've been thinking about this morning, is how much that did help. Some people might think that it's meaningless to pray or think about someone going through that but it helps when collectively people do that," Berger said on Tuesday.

Buffalo Bills players react as teammate Damar Hamlin is examined during the first half of an NFL football game against the Cincinnati Bengals, Monday in Cincinnati.
Buffalo Bills players react as teammate Damar Hamlin is examined during the first half of an NFL football game against the Cincinnati Bengals, Monday in Cincinnati. (Photo: Jeff Dean, Deseret News)

Berger said he also thought about the trauma experienced by the people who witnessed Hamlin's collapse — players, coaches and spectators, which included a stunned television audience. After about an hour of suspended play, the league announced the game was postponed.

When Berger's sudden cardiac arrest occurred, he and his teammates were at practice preparing for a game against rival BYU the following day.

"They canceled that game just because it's just traumatic for the team and everyone who went through that," he said.

Although Hamlin's collapse stirred memories of Berger's own cardiac event and recovery — he returned to play in college and went on to play professional basketball in Europe — his thoughts turned to people who witnessed Hamlin's cardiac arrest and his own.

He observed that players and coaches were "ghost-faced. They've never seen anything like that before. (For) my teammates and coaches, it was tough for them," he said.

In Berger's case, "I had low potassium and low electrolyte levels" but physicians were unable to pinpoint a condition or heart structural issue that contributed to the collapse.

"I was in great shape, obviously, playing college sports, and if it can happen to me, it can happen to anybody. But it wasn't anything that I can pass on or anything like that," he said.

The events continue to shape his life's path. Berger now works for Abbott, a Chicago-based medical products company that develops and markets diagnostics, medical devices, nutrition products and branded generic pharmaceuticals. He is a sales representative for defibrillators and pacemakers.

"You know, I didn't know any of that existed beforehand. So it's changed the direction of my life pretty dramatically, but yeah, it's pretty cool," he said.

Berger said he also carries an automated external defibrillator in his car should an emergency arise and someone needs an electric pulse or shock to the heart to restore a normal heartbeat.

"I do have an external one because I always think about I might have to pay this forward and help somebody out," he said.

Berger said he hesitates to speak about other people's experiences, but in his case, the trial "changed my life for the better."

"It's such a hard thing that has turned into a blessing. I've been able to have a career path from it. I've been able to meet so many people who are influential in helping others. I hear about stories that didn't work out like mine did and it's just devastating. Really, it's been a cool overall experience, if that makes any sense," he said.

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