After brush with death, Utah State's Danny Berger ready to serve others

Published: Thursday, April 25 2013 5:00 a.m. MDT

Utah State University basketball player Danny Berger speaks with the press during his recovery at Intermountain Medical Center in Murray, Dec. 7.

Ravell Call, Deseret News

Facing death can teach a man a lot about life.

That’s been the case for Danny Berger, the 6-foot-6 Utah State forward who collapsed and nearly died during a basketball practice last December.

Thanks to the quick actions of trainer Mike Williams and a host of others, along with a series of timely events, Berger lived.

Many, including the 22-year-old, believe his survival was a miracle.

Since then, the junior from Medford, Ore., has continued to ponder what happened, considering the blessings received and discovering the lessons learned. Others, including Williams, Berger’s father, Brian, and his LDS bishop, have also gained new perspective on life as a result of Berger’s experience.

In an effort to pay it forward, Berger continues to share his story to raise awareness about the importance of automated external defibrillators, a device that saved his life.

“It affected my life tremendously. I have a new perspective on a lot of things,” Berger said in a recent interview. “There is not just one reason or purpose. I think there’s a lot. It’s a matter of figuring those things out as I go on. … In general it was extremely faith-building for those that were closely related, including my family, my roommates, my teammates and close friends. It seemed like each person’s faith in God was strengthened.”

Health update

For those who missed his ordeal, Berger collapsed near the end of a practice in preparation for a Dec. 4 game at BYU. He went into full cardiac arrest. Williams revived him using an AED while several others assisted in getting the junior to Intermountain Medical Center in Murray, Utah, where he remained for the next four days. Before he left, a defibrillator was surgically implanted into his chest.

On Dec. 8, Berger rejoined his teammates and coaches at the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum for an emotional game against Western Oregon.

Berger eventually returned to class and anticipates playing for the Aggies next season. Utah State expects the NCAA to grant Berger a medical hardship exception to regain his junior year of eligibility.

“I feel normal, like before. I’m getting used to the device in my chest. I don’t feel any side effects. I feel really good,” Berger said. “I’m starting to play a little bit, getting used to the contact again. In the future I don’t think anything should hold me back from playing 100 percent.”

Dr. Jared Bunch, a heart rhythm specialist at the Intermountain Heart Institute at Intermountain Medical Center, said Berger’s case is extraordinary. In many cases like Berger’s, patients struggle with short-term memory loss or have trouble controlling emotion, Bunch said.

“Danny was completely intact like it had never occurred. I’ve been involved in cardiac arrest research for 14 years, and his resuscitation was one of the best or the best that I’ve seen. It’s a tribute to Mike Williams and his preparation. Danny’s body never had a chance to become injured from the lack of blood flow because they did such a remarkable job,” said Bunch, a lifelong Aggie fan and alum. “It’s truly amazing to me. Everything had to be in place … and utilized to perfection to get him to me and make my job really easy. We struggle at even our best centers and best training facilities to replicate something like that. Normally we can’t. There are delays somewhere.

"It truly was a miracle.”

Perspectives and purposes

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