Dave Sandler is a professional inspirational speaker. He is the author of the new book “Taking a Detour.” Dave owns Detour Dave Inc., which delivers traffic information to the Baltimore/Washington area on WBAL Radio and 98 Rock. He also provides entertainment for weddings and other private affairs.
On August 9, 2009, I took the biggest detour of my life. I died that day, but God was not ready to take me.
While scoring the winning run in a championship softball game, I collapsed and my heart stopped beating. You might think that a ball field was a terrible place for this to happen, but I was lucky that two doctors – one a cardiologist – were in the stands. As my face turned blue and foam spewed from my mouth, they rushed over and began CPR. Within 45 seconds I came back to life. The color returned to my face and my heart began beating. The odds were stacked against me: Only 10 percent of sudden cardiac victims survive. I was one of the fortunate ones.
As they brushed the dirt from my face and body, the doctors told me to stay down and wait for the paramedics. My first question was, “Did I score?” I had blacked out completely and had no idea what had happened. As soon the EMTs arrived they loaded me into the ambulance. Unfortunately my 16-year-old son witnessed the episode first-hand. He drove behind us to the hospital as teammates called my wife, Jody, to meet us at the ER.
After some preliminary tests I was moved to the University of Maryland Medical Center for more evaluation. Dr. Scott Katzen (who helped save me on the ball field) performed a cardiac catheterization and determined that four of my arteries were blocked more than 80%. The cause was radiation I had received to treat Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, a type of cancer, when I was 20. The solution: quadruple by-pass surgery.
I could not believe that what had cured my cancer in 1982 caused my collapse in 2009, nearly 30 years later. Suddenly I faced a second relentless battle for my life.
I’m a radio guy. I’ve been delivering traffic to faithful listeners in the Baltimore/Washington area for 30 years. They call me Detour Dave. I’ve always had a positive attitude. My demeanor is ultra-calm, and I’ve talked many a frustrated commuter through a jam. That calmness helped me tremendously as I faced this unexpected “jam” in my own life. So, the traffic guy had to take another detour. I was ready.
As I was wheeled to the OR I began chanting, “Fix that heart, fix that heart!” After a grueling seven-hour operation, the surgeons were confident that I’d make it. Recovery was painful. Each step literally seemed like climbing a mountain. But after 10 days in ICU I was strong enough to go home. If not for the fabulous staff at UMMC and my wife Jody, daughter Alix, son Brooks, and my extended family, I couldn’t have made it.
Little did I know that my near-death episode would be the first of many medical and professional detours over the next two years. I underwent surgery to rebuild my chest wall, which had been damaged by the Hodgkin’s radiation, and multiple pulmonary procedures to keep my lungs from filling with fluid. At times I felt as if I was drowning; after seeing several specialists and having another major surgery I could finally breathe without gasping.
During this prolonged period of treatments and recovery my work hours dropped from full- to part-time. The station made a tough business decision, and it placed a tremendous financial strain on my family. Eventually I went back behind the mic full-time, but the long recuperation and loss of income were draining, both emotionally and fiscally.
When people ask me how I survived -- besides amazing luck -- I credit my attitude. I was lucky to get three “second” chances, and I was determined to live my life to the fullest and never squander the gift I was given. I stayed positive, refused to panic or give up, and took it one day, one step, one breath at a time. I asked myself “why me” a few times, but I had too much to live for to quit trying.
I am grateful to all the people who helped me recover: my family, the medical teams, my friends, and my listeners, all of whom supported me through every agonizing step.
I recently completed a book about my experiences called “Taking a Detour.” My goal is to inspire others to remain positive as they overcome whatever obstacles life throws their way. I hope that my story will help them to keep pushing and stay strong. I think that as long as you believe, you have a chance. I know that I will never be 100%, but I am determined to be the best 60% I can! We all get knocked down, some of us more than others. But no matter what our individual experiences may be, we can be survivors!
By Dave Sandler
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