On the evening of May 6, 2019, my son, Brennan, suffered a sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) while pitching his best game of the season for the Owls of Olathe West High School.
It was the bottom of the 4th inning. I was sitting near the backstop on the first base line. Brennan was up 1-2 on the batter, caught the ball from his catcher and as he set up for his next pitch he simply collapsed. Our local media has used the term "dropped dead," and while the term pains me beyond all reason, it's true. Have you ever seen someone collapse due to SCA? It's like a light switch is turned off, it happens that quickly.
Shock doesn't even begin to describe my feelings as I navigated the path from my seat to the field to join my husband, Brennan's coaches, and several folks from the opposing team's stands. It quickly became clear that Brennan was in danger, so an AED (automated external defibrillator) was called for and miraculously delivered by Brennan's head coach to the folks leading the charge to resuscitate him.
You see, our head coach was the former head coach of the opposing team, so he knew exactly where the AED was and had determined it might be needed before it was requested.
The folks on the field from the opposing team's stands? The right people doing the right things - a current doctor, a former pediatric ER doctor, and a nurse. When it came time to use the AED, they didn't hesitate to attach the pads to my son's chest. After a moment, the AED instructed them to administer the charge, which they did, then quickly followed with CPR. We waited. And it worked - the AED + CPR saved Brennan's life. (Only one out of 10 kids are revived from SCA.)
I rode in the front of the ambulance to Overland Park Regional Hospital with Brennan being cared for in the back. I could hear the technicians talking, and based on that, I honestly didn't know what was going to happen. We arrived at the hospital, where they performed a CT scan on him. Based on his status, they recommended that he transfer immediately to Children's Mercy Hospital, where they specialize in pediatric cardiac care.
Again, I rode in the ambulance with my son. I don't recall much about our arrival, only somewhat mechanically following a medical team with Brennan on a gurney taking him to the Pediatric ICU (PICU). Again, this part is blurry for me now, but I'm told that we once again had the right people doing the right things to help stabilize him and determine the best next steps.
The first week in the PICU was tough for him, and for our family. Initial test results caused us to fall to our knees in prayer for our son. But he was strong, brave, and "not ready to die," as he put it himself. Brennan, his dad and I battled side-by-side through each day that first week.
On the following Monday - a week after his collapse - Brennan underwent a six hour procedure that included an angiogram, a biopsy collecting seven samples, and an electrophysiology (EP) study. During the EP study, the doctors performed a fourth procedure - a cardiac ablation - to correct a critical arrhythmia, but felt that wasn't the cause of his SCA. We still didn't know the underlying cause, but from that evening on he had no further arrhythmia activity.
Brennan continued to grow stronger each day the second week. His doctors were very happy with his progress, and although none of the many tests he underwent identified the cause of his SCA, each helped by eliminating potential causes from their list.
On Friday morning of the second week, Brennan was moved from PICU to a regular pediatric patient room. Several hours later, his doctors approached us with the idea of being able to take him home. To do so, he would need a ZIO Patch to monitor his heart, and a ZOLL LifeVest, which is essentially a wearable defibrillator. They told us it could take a week or more to receive and fit the LifeVest. Early that same evening, he was fitted with both. This gave him more mobility, which in turn gave him more hope as he desperately wanted to go home.
On Saturday, May 18, 2019 - 12 days after he coded and was rushed to the hospital - my son Brennan was released to go home with us. And he was able to sleep soundly in his own bed.
On Monday, May 20, 2019, Brennan was delighted to attend his high school baseball banquet, where he was showered with "love ya, bro's" and fist bumps + hugs beyond measure. And there were tears. And a tribute from his coach in honor of Brennan, and our entire Owls baseball family in coming together in the battle for his health and recovery.
On May 21, 2019, Brennan returned to school - his decision - to reconnect with his friends and teachers before the last day of school on Thursday. Due to his SCA and unknown recovery time, the school allowed his grades to be "frozen" where they were. We're thankful for that as it allowed him to focus on his recovery. And he had all A's, so there's that.
So how does a seemingly healthy, smart, multi-sport athlete go from pitching his best game of the season to lights out? Brennan's doctors are still trying to determine exactly what led to his SCA. He had a third cardiac MRI at the end of May, and his genetic testing results in early June provided no further insights.
On June 21, 2019, Brennan had surgery to impact a S-ICD (subcutaneous internal cardiac defibulator) on the left side of his body. His EP doctor believed it was the best option, given the circumstances. As of today, Brennan continues to heal nicely, and is looking forward to his one-month follow-up appointment to determine when he will be released to get back on the field.
Brennan realizes that he's been given a second chance at life, and doesn't want to have any regrets. He has dreams of playing baseball in college, and possibly in the majors someday. While we don't know what his future holds for him, we do have an immediate calling to help build awareness on the importance of AEDs, CPR, and heart screening. If we can save even one life based on sharing our experience - as agonizing as it is to relive it - we want to do it.