Robby Klaber has always been exceptionally active, challenging himself consistently with intense marathons and biking experiences. He ran the Miami Marathon in 2012, ran the San Francisco Half Marathon in 2013, and even biked from Providence, Rhode Island to Seattle, Washington to raise money and awareness for Habitat for Humanity.
However, when running in the Chicago Marathon in October 2014, Robby suffered an unexpected sudden cardiac arrest as he approached the mile nine marker.
Robby described this moment as a hazy memory, saying “Next thing I knew, I woke up, and someone said, ‘Robert, do you know where you are?’ And I immediately replied back, ‘I’m so close, you gotta let me finish this race!’” As he looked up, there were EMTs and firemen standing above, and a few seconds later, the doors to the ambulance opened up to transport Robby to the hospital.
He remained in the hospital for a few days and left with a LifeVest but no diagnosis. During the next few months, Robby consulted with doctors at different facilities including Stanford, Cleveland Clinic, and Texas Heart to obtain additional opinions. Robby describes this stage as, “My approach was: this is obviously a big deal. I want to do everything I can to try to get an accurate diagnosis so that I can address it.”
After returning home to San Francisco, he returned to work and spent his spare time reading about the variety of causes of sudden cardiac arrest. Robby experienced the difficulties of navigating the health system, and shares, “It’s underappreciated just how difficult it can be to navigate the health system. I learned that you have to be your own best advocate. You have to stay on top of all the follow-up, such as faxing records and EKGs, and it can be a lot to do.”
Robby was diagnosed with a congenital defect in December 2014 and had open heart surgery to address the issue in April of the following year, six months after the cardiac arrest.
Robby shared his reasons to be grateful about aspects of the event, saying, “I view this whole thing as an incredible miracle on so many levels. For example, where it happened - the fact that it was during a marathon where there are EMS and police officers every quarter mile. It couldn’t have happened at a better place.”
He shared his gratitude to the complete strangers who stopped their races and performed CPR to help someone they did not know. Robby still keeps in touch with three people who he knows aided at the scene, talking to them throughout the year and always calling them on the anniversary of the Chicago Marathon. He shares, “There is so much to be appreciative of and grateful for, and I realize I’m very lucky to have had this outcome. If one thing in the chain of events was different, it could have been a very different outcome. I thank G-d every day.”
Speaking about Damar Hamlin’s sudden cardiac arrest that made national news, Robby says, “I think the positive is that it’s brought attention to what sudden cardiac arrest is -- I think there’s still a lot of misunderstanding about it.” His hope is that the event doesn’t just recede from people’s minds, and that it sparks more awareness and interest in how to do CPR properly.
Like many survivors, Robby thinks of the anniversary of his sudden cardiac arrest as a “re-birthday,” and also celebrates the yearly mark of his surgery. Robby has had a full recovery and has been involved in many cardiac arrest related activities. He is a valued board member of the Sudden Cardiac Arrest Foundation and has participated in CPR training several times.
When asked if there was anything else important that he wished people better understood about sudden cardiac arrest, Robby Klaber said that people need to understand that it is very different from a heart attack. He says, “It’s important for people to understand what sudden cardiac arrest looks like so that they know when to act. Sudden cardiac arrest can happen to anyone, even people who look perfectly normal and healthy. It can happen to you. So, it may not be as distant in concept as you might believe.”
By Sawyer Reed