SALT LAKE CITY – A Utah State basketball player who nearly died after collapsing during practice Tuesday is expected to be able play again. Danny Berger collapsed during practice in Logan and fell into cardiac arrest. The team’s trainer revived him using a defibrillator.
Doctors have inserted a small defibrillator underneath Berger’s skin in his chest that would kick into action and restart his heart if it stops again. His left arm will remain in a sling for three weeks because of the defibrillator. After that, doctors say he should be cleared to play again.
”If I everything goes right, it seems like I’ll have a full recovery,” the 22-year-old Berger said Friday during a press conference.
Berger will be released from the hospital Saturday and plans to go to Utah State’s Saturday night game against Western Oregon.
Doctors cannot fully explain what caused the collapse, but said he was born with a tendency for this to happen because of his heart having two to three extra beats, said Dr. Jared Brunch of the Intermountain Medical Center.
Tests show that playing basketball shouldn’t be a problem for Berger, Brunch said. When he does play again, doctors will be monitoring the heart remotely via the defibrillator. Other college basketball players have played with defibrillators in place, Brunch said.
”By all means, we want him to go back and play,” Brunch said. ”He’s played at a high level of basketball for over 16 years, so his heart most of the time recovers nicely.”
Doctors have not been able to fully explain why Berger collapsed, Brunch said. Berger said he has never experienced anything like what happened, and knows nothing of any pre-existing condition.
The near-death experience has made Berger reflect on the frailty of life and strengthened his belief in God. Berger is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
”I can’t deny the hand of God in the whole situation,” he said. ”I know for a fact that he used people to still have me here. There is a purpose why I’m here.”
This was the first time Berger has spoken to the media since the collapse.
Berger was upgraded Thursday to ”fair” condition and moved out of the intensive care unit at a Salt Lake City area hospital. He has been in critical condition since being flown there by helicopter Tuesday.
Berger said he remembers what happened up until his collapse, which he said felt like standing up too fast from bed and feeling light headed. His next memory was waking up in a hospital.
Dr. Brunch said it’s remarkable that Berger survived – at least more than half of people whose hearts stop die. Every minute, survival possibilities go down by 10 percent, he said. Berger’s heart wasn’t functioning for 30 seconds, Brunch said.
Brunch said this case shows the importance of having the automated external defibrillator, known as AEDs, around at gyms and public areas.
Longtime Utah State assistant athletic trainer Mike Williams used that device within a minute or two after Berger went into cardiac arrest. That quick action has been credited with saving Berger’s life.
Berger said Williams didn’t have the device on top of the water cooler like usual, but team manager Jesse Parker sprinted up a tunnel at the basketball arena and brought it back down to the court quickly. Parker is Berger’s roommate.
”Before he hit even the ground, I was already out of my chair sprinting up the tunnel,” Parker said Friday.
Utah State basketball coach Stew Morrill also spoke for the first time Friday, saying his visits with Berger have been emotional.
”I’m an old bird. I don’t know if I’m a tough old bird, but I’m definitely an old bird and things like this are hard. The fact that he’s doing so much better has made it bearable. It’s emotional,” Morrill said.
Morrill discussed those visits as his team prepared to play Saturday against Western Oregon – the Aggies’ first game since Berger collapsed.
Morrill said his own heart ached seeing Berger three straight days at a Salt Lake City-area hospital.
Morrill said he nearly lost it when Berger was regaining consciousness.
”He thanked me for coming,” Morrill recalled. ”That one about got me. Yeah right, like it was a big deal for me to come. He’s just an awfully, awfully good kid.”
Danny Berger was born in Fort Collins, Colo., and went to high school in Medford, Ore. He played basketball at Chemeketa Community College in Oregon before coming to play for Utah State. The junior is a starter at forward and averages 7.6 points and 3.6 rebounds.
Berger’s family has been with him at the hospital since Tuesday. Evidence of his improvement was visible in a photo a friend tweeted Thursday showing Berger flashing a ”thumbs up” sign while surrounded by family members.
Aggies students have organized a campaign to send Berger get-well cards and should be in full force to show their support for the team Saturday night, even if Berger remains hospitalized.
Morrill said getting back to practice has been ”therapeutic” for the team and coaches after they witnessed the incident.
”The fact that Danny’s doing better has made it seem like it’s time to go back to the practice floor,” Morrill said.
He said it’s been 10 days since the team last played and that it will be interesting to see how players respond in a game considering all that has happened.
They returned to practice Thursday.
”The kids were a little rusty, but in good spirits and had about as good a workout as you could expect,” Morrill said.
Utah State, meanwhile, continues working with Brigham Young officials to find a suitable date to reschedule the rivalry game that was postponed Wednesday because of what happened to Berger.
”As I’ve said, they’ve been great in this situation,” Morrill said. ”It’s just a dilemma right now with conference play around the corner and both of us having full schedules. Finals week is next week and that was looked at. We’re trying to look at all the options, but that’s the stage we’re in right now. We have not found a date that works yet.”
SOURCE: Associated Press