MURRAY — On Tuesday, Danny Berger's 22-year-old heart stopped beating.
On Wednesday, he was talking with friends and family, answering doctors' questions and rapidly regaining the strength that helped him become a college basketball player.
His appears to be a terrifying story headed for a happy ending; but the optimism exists only because of the vigilance and quick action of trainer Mike Williams.
The junior from Oregon was in the middle of a practice meant to put the finishing touches on the Aggies' preparation for its rivalry game against BYU the following night when for reasons still unknown he went into cardiac arrest.
"He was moving to the side for some water and he collapsed into (teammate) Kyisean Reed's arms," said Utah State athletic director Scott Barnes at a press conference Wednesday evening.
Instantly, Williams orchestrated the actions that saved Berger's life.
The Idaho native assessed Berger, who wasn't breathing and had no pulse. While he began performing CPR, he sent someone else to retrieve an AED, which is used to shock the heart, and directed another person to call for an ambulance.
"During CPR the defibrillator was brought down within a minute or two of his collapse," said Trek Lyons, the team's doctor. "The AED was placed on him. He detected that he had gone into full cardiac arrest. The AED, the way it functions indicated that it was a rhythm to be shocked. He received one shock from it. He was able to regain a pulse but then had to be shocked again. At that point EMS arrived and were able to transport him to the hospital where he underwent treatment and care there at the emergency room."
Williams' handling of the situation didn't end there. He went to the football office and retrieved Berger's medical information and drove to the emergency room so doctors would have as much information as possible when treating Berger.
Lyons said if he had to choose someone to handle Tuesday's frightening situation, he'd choose the unassuming but vigilant Williams. For example, in August, it was Williams who checked the batteries on all of the AED's in the in athletic department and made sure they were always courtside during games.
"It's one thing to learn it in a classroom, but when you are involved in one of these situations it's a bit different," said Lyons. "The part that is amazing to me is that he then stays with Danny, he went down last night and has been with him the whole time. He's the last person on the planet (who) would expect any kind of recognition, but the position that Danny Berger is in right now, is due in large degree to a man keeping his mind in a really tense situation and following the protocol. I think you can tell in my response of what I think of Mike Williams and how much trust all of us have in him."
Berger's family issued statements at Intermountain Medical Center in Murray where Berger is now undergoing tests in an attempt to determine what made his heart stop beating. Lyons said the versatile guard/forward who transferred from a junior college in Oregon after serving a mission to Detroit had no history of heart problems.
"As far as heart conditions, we are not aware of any. As a collegiate athlete he is basically running through a stress test everyday," said Lyons. "Anyone that has watched him knows that he is a well-conditioned athlete. It reminds all of us that there are certain things that are unpredictable."
The rarity of a situation like this has been difficult for Berger's young teammates to digest.
"(It's been) very traumatic for them," Barnes said. "Danny is a strong young man and is well-loved by everyone. We were with them right after it happened. They were shocked. At that point in time we did have an offer for counseling for anyone that needed it. The main issue was to understand what happened and where Danny was in the situation. Many of them traveled down to be with him by his side. (They were) shocked and questioning how Danny is going to be."
As Berger has improved, his teammates and coaches have improved as well. In addition to many of his family, his teammates, and Williams, Aggies head coach Stew Morrill has been at the hospital the entire time as well.
"He is very concerned, very emotional," said Barnes of Morrill. "He's been by his side most of the time. As Danny's progressing, coach Morrill is progressing, in terms of his circumstance. He's a man that cares very deeply for that student-athlete and that came out in a number of ways."
Barnes expressed gratitude to BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe and men's basketball coach Dave Rose for their willingness to reschedule Wednesday's game, as well as their support for the team and Berger.
"It's times like this that the actual athletic events take a back seat," Barnes said.
According to IMC medical spokesman Jess Gomez, it's still unknown what caused the cardiac arrest.
"A lot of evaluation at this point, but nothing that I'm able to announce," he said during a scheduled press conference Wednesday afternoon. "The unit where he is located, these are some of the best physicians and medical staff in the country. He's getting the very best care possible. Right now, the main focus is further stabilizing him and treating his condition (and) in the process find out what caused this."
Barnes and Lyons explain why doctors are looking at an arrhythmia or genetic defect as the cause of cardiac arrest in a seemingly strong, fit young man.
"Most common when you think of heart attack is a blood clot blocking a vessel and that's not what we think he has," said Lyons. "When an AED says you go into full arrest, it means the heart's electrical activity is not sufficiently providing the pumping mechanism to provide blood to the brain. In an athlete under 35 it is not commonly (a) blood clot (that causes the heart attack)."
"He's gone through some tests, medical tests, taking some pictures looking at the structural integrity of his heart," Lyons said. "It's my understanding that the electrophysiology tests to see if he can produce an arrhythmia."
Barnes said Saturday's game at the Spectrum against Western Oregon would be played as scheduled, although he wasn't sure when the team would practice again.
Berger is averaging 7.6 points and 3.6 rebounds as a starter in his second season with the Aggies. His brother, John, and sister, Lauren, delivered a statement during Wednesday's press conference at the hospital, but elected not to field questions.
"We want to thank everyone for their thoughts and prayers. I know that you have made a difference in keeping my brother alive," said John Berger while choking back emotion. "We are so thankful for everyone who has been so kind and willing to help in any way. Thanks to the medical staff here at Intermountain Medical Center, at Logan Regional Hospital, and Danny's teammates and coaching staff. Most of all, thank you to Mike Williams, the Utah State University trainer, who was at practice when Danny collapsed. He saved my brother's life, and I thank God for him."
Contributing: Kraig Williams
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