LOGAN, Utah — A tired but grateful Danny Berger called it a “miracle” that he was back to watch his Utah State teammates play days after collapsing on the court and being revived by an assistant trainer.
Berger was released from a Salt Lake City area hospital Saturday and back in Logan, flanked by the trainer credited with saving his life and a father who thought the worst upon receiving word of Tuesday’s life-threatening incident while driving in the middle of the Nevada desert.
“I immediately thought Hank Gathers because I’m from there,” Berger’s father, Brian, said about the Loyola Marymount star who collapsed and died at age 23 in 1990 during a West Coast Conference Tournament game because of a heart-muscle disorder.
“I didn’t know what to think.”
Brian Berger also was grateful for Mike Williams, who is in his 14th year as an assistant athletic trainer at Utah State.
Williams was across the court Tuesday when Berger collapsed during a routine practice.
He was among those who helped stabilize Elliott. But until Tuesday, Williams had only taught CPR, and never performed it.
If Tuesday’s scene was chaotic, Williams said he didn’t have time to notice. He yelled for the manager to call 911 and get the automatic defibrillator (AED).
“I remember looking down and starting CPR, mouth to mouth, the compressions and then hooking the AED up,” Williams said. “That’s the worst part because it takes 15 seconds to analyze and you’re just sitting there waiting.”
The machine finally said “shock advised” and Williams administered the shock, then went back to CPR. On the third set, he heard Berger gurgle a bit then blew another really hard breath into him.
“As I pulled up, I actually saw the pulse in his carotid artery before I felt it,” Williams said.
Only afterward, when he tried to call the head trainer, did he realize how traumatic the situation was.
The phone was ringing and ringing but no one answered. Williams finally realized he had dialed 10 random digits and that his hands were shaking.
“Afterward the adrenaline got there, but fortunately that was afterward,” Williams said.
Berger still doesn’t remember any of that, only practicing defense in preparation for the rivalry game, then feeling dizzy as if he had stood up too fast.
“One of my teammates made a shot in my face when I was guarding him and I was kind of upset about it,” he recalled Saturday.
Four days later, he looked forward to a reunion with the rest of his teammates, who will be wearing “12” patches on the jerseys. First, he wanted a nap.
“I can’t explain everything. It’s just a miracle,” said Danny Berger, his left arm in a sling to protect the miniature defibrillator installed so doctors can monitor his heart remotely should there be any further problems.
Doctors cannot fully explain what caused the 22-year-old to collapse, but said he was born with a tendency for this to happen because of his heart having two to three extra beats, according to Dr. Jared Brunch of the Intermountain Medical Center where he was transported Tuesday via medical helicopter.
The elder Berger said Brunch told him Brunch is much more likely to have a heart attack than Danny, and that Danny is less likely to have a problem than anybody on the team because of the defibrillator.
The starting forward remains hopeful he will play again but is taking it day by day. Six weeks is the earliest he can get back out on the court.
“I just have to trust the experts,” Brian Berger said.
Of course, Danny’s mom is a little less enthusiastic.
“She just wants me to be in the library for the rest of my life,” Danny joked.
All were grateful to be in Logan, getting ready to watch a basketball game with their son.
“There’s literally dozens of people who have played a role in this whole process just in these last four days,” Brian Berger said. “And every single person has done the exact right thing that they needed to do, starting with Mike. ... If it hadn’t been for Mike and the quick response ... I’ve got nothing but gratitude.
“Four days ago we didn’t know what was going to happen and (Friday) Danny was walking on the treadmill. When you have something like this happen, it’s that time period where it’s either fatal or not, or brain damage or not.”
Danny, though he doesn’t remember Williams at his side Tuesday, was glad to have him there Saturday during a press conference before the game against Western Oregon.
“I tried to tell the doctor that I want (Williams) to be my personal defibrillator but they didn’t buy it, they had to put one in there,” Danny Berger said. “I owe Mike a lot. I can’t ever pay him back. He’s one of the smartest guys I know, and a lifelong friend.”