Family revisits 18-year-old YouTube sensation's life, death

Nicole Villalpando

Published: Friday, Nov. 1 2013 7:00 a.m. MDT

Ben's failing heart

For most of Ben's early childhood he was able to go to school, pull pranks with his neighborhood friends and go on family vacations. Occasionally, life-and-death situations reminded the family of the seriousness of Ben's condition. When he was 4, Ben had a 45-minute seizure and had Deanne not driven him to their nearest fire station, he probably would have died. That episode was when Ben saw a white light above him that no one else could see.

Just before that episode, Ben had asked his mom, "How do we know if we get to go to heaven?" Right there in the car, he prayed to God to tell him that he wanted to go to heaven one day, Ally Breedlove recalls in the book. It would be one of many conversations Ben had with God.

Six-year-old Ben became one of the youngest people to have a heart ablation to destroy some of the heart tissue causing the irregular heartbeat. He survived that, but the two-hour procedure lasted seven hours and he had a high fever afterward.

The ablation seemed to work for a while. But as had been predicted, Ben's heart began to fail when he was 14. He needed a pacemaker. After much convincing, Ben had one placed in his chest in May 2009. He felt better and was wakeboarding again.

Two years later, Ben went into cardiac arrest on the first day of summer vacation. He had undergone surgery to remove an abscess on his tonsil. It seemed so simple compared with his previous heart surgeries, but his family realized, for Ben, there was no such thing as a simple surgery.

Ben recovered and made the most of that summer. He and Jake went on a cruise to Alaska with their grandfather. He and his friends played a memorable prank on the neighborhood by resting what looked like a dead body in the middle of the road. He got caught and had to apologize. He shot YouTube videos on relationship advice, which earned him a loyal following.

Ben's heart continued to bump his senior year. The medicines weren't working. His family knew that a heart transplant would be the next step, but they wanted to wait until after Christmas to explore that possibility. Shawn Breedlove says they weren't even sure if he was sick enough to qualify for one based on the heart transplant industry's standards.

Close to heaven

Ben was noticeably weaker by Thanksgiving of 2011. He was missing a lot of school and was trying to keep up. His parents were no longer planning for college the next year.

On Dec. 6, he insisted on going to school to review for a test. He fainted, and his heart stopped. That's when Ben says he went to the waiting room of heaven. He knew he was dying. He found himself in an all-white room with no walls. His favorite rapper, Kid Cudi, was with him. They were wearing suits, and Ben says he looked at himself in the mirror and thought, "D***, we look GOOD!"

In his-two part video uploaded on Dec. 18, "This is My Story," he silently holds up a series of cards with his story written on them as "Mad World" by Gary Jules plays in the background. Of the Dec. 6 experience, he wrote that he had the same feeling he had when he was 4 and he saw the bright light. "I couldn't stop smiling. I then looked at myself in the mirror. I was proud of MYSELF, of my entire life, everything I have done. It was the BEST feeling."

He thought of the Kid Cudi song "Mr. Rager" and the lyrics, "When will the fantasy END ... when will the heaven BEGIN?" He says, Kid Cudi told him, "Go now." And he woke up.

But in his video, Ben holds up his cards: "I didn't want to leave that place. I wish I NEVER woke up."

Ben had died, gone to heaven and been revived. His family was relieved. He was not.

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