When Utah State trainer Mike Williams called his boss to let him know that 22-year-old Danny Berger was on his way to the hospital after collapsing into a teammate's arms during practice, Dale Mildenberger understood what Williams had done in a way that few others could.
Berger had stopped for a water break when he collapsed. He wasn't breathing and didn't have a pulse.
Williams performed CPR on Berger, who'd suffered cardiac arrest, while directing other personnel to call for an ambulance and retrieve an automated external defibrillator for him. He used the AED to re-start Berger's heart, a move that doctors are saying saved the life of the junior from Oregon, who had no history of heart problems.
Williams, rightly so, is hailed as this story's hero as Berger left the ICU on Thursday and was upgraded to fair condition. Team doctor Trek Lyons praised the 14-year veteran for following protocol that the team's medical personnel enacted to protect the 400 student athletes at the school.
But Mildenberger, who is now Utah State's head athletic trainer, did the same thing in 1987 when a freshman football player from California suffered a cardiac arrest while being treated for cramping and shortness of breath.
Twenty-five years ago, however, the story had a much different ending.
Mildenberger, who plans to retire in May, recounted the tragic events that still haunt him to Craig Hislop in the Herald Journal on Friday. He said that he and a student trainer followed the school's medical protocol and revived Carlton Oaks Jr. with CPR.
“We restored a pulse and breathing, an ambulance arrived," he told the Herald Journal. "Carlton was transported to Logan Regional Hospital and later to the University of Utah Medical Center. We all had taken a sigh of relief. That evening he died at the University of Utah.”
While Berger's doctors are still performing tests to determine exactly what caused a young, physically fit athlete to suffer a cardiac arrest on Tuesday, Oaks' heart attack and death were caused by an enlarged heart that the teen never knew he had.
Unlike Williams, Mildenberger did not have an AED. USU has followed recommendations from the medical community that AEDs be placed in multiple locations so they are easily accessible in an emergency. Their placement, upkeep and use are a critical part of the medical team's plan in dealing with life-threatening situations.
"The protocol is that you want an AED placed in under three minutes," said Lyons. "After five minutes the survival rate is dramatically affected. Having the AED available and Mike being able to put it on within a couple minutes is critical in this situation. We have one at the Spectrum at all times. We have it in our training room or down by the bench. We’ve had one here for the last five or six years. It’s always within a few steps. In August of this year (Williams) had all of the AEDs lined up making sure the batteries were good."
A day after Williams' quick action, USU athletic director Scott Barnes praised Mildenberger's department.
"We were blessed to have had the foresight to have that equipment in place and folks like Mike Williams, who could deliver when they needed to," said Barnes, who has had his own brush with the tragic and inexplicable loss of a young athlete.Comment on this story
Barnes was working at the University of San Deigo where the West Coast Conference tournament was being held. He was in the gymnasium when Loyola Marymount's Hank Gathers, who led the nation in scoring and rebounding, collapsed during a game. He was taken to a nearby hospital where he was pronounced dead at the age of 23 from hypertrophic cardiomyopathy.
"I was in the gym when Hank went down," Barnes told the Deseret News. "They didn't have AEDs. The odds are so much different, so much better now."