Matt Nader was only seventeen on September 15, 2006, when his heart went into ventricular fibrillation during a football game.
He remembers that day so clearly. It was an important game against a major rival. All day he felt unusually nervous about the game. He couldn't shake it. One of his co-captains tried to joke with him before the game, sensing that Matt wasn't his usual self. His team lost the coin toss and the other team elected to receive the ball. Matt was pensive and felt tired waiting on the sidelines.
Suddenly we heard someone yelling to us. "Matt's down, Matt's down!"
Matt remembers going to the sidelines and taking his place on the bench. He asked his coach if he did okay. Did he make his block? His coach told him he did. Matt began to feel a burning sensation in his chest. His vision blurred, like when he stays too long in a chlorinated pool with his eyes open. That's the last thing he remembers.
Paul and I flew down the stands to Matt's side. His dad went to the right side of his body and I to the left side of his head. Matt had fallen straight backwards when he lost consciousness. His legs were still up on the bench. I tried to speak to him but he didn't respond. I pinched his pale cheeks. His skin was clammy, dusky. His curly hair was soaking wet. He was breathing, but I recognized it as agonal breathing when I heard Paul say he couldn't feel a pulse. I felt for a carotid pulse and found none. At that instant Matt took his last breath, a weak gasp at best. My husband and I started CPR. We started CPR on our own baby! A patient of mine later wrote to me, saying that my husband and I went through all that medical training so that we could be there, at that moment, to give life to our son.
There were some other doctors in the bleachers; a couple of anesthesiologists and a cardiologist. They took over for us, but it was hard for me to leave Matt's side. Four years ago someone donated an AED to our football team. It had never been used. It was charged, someone knew exactly where it was so when it was called for, it was there. Matt's pads and jersey were cut off and the pads put on his chest. When I heard the prompt say he was ready, I knew there was a serious problem, because the automatic defibrillator will not deliver a charge unless the person is in asystole or ventricular fibrillation. We stood back. I saw Matt's tremendous body convulse.
I heard Paul tell someone to continue CPR, but they told him Matt was breathing on his own. Through the crowd of people I saw Matt's tummy rise and fall. He was breathing.
Within two days of getting his ICD, Matt was back in school. A couple of days later he joined state representative, Donna Howard to testify before the University Interscholastic League (UIL) medial advisory board to ask that AEDs be mandatory for all UIL events. Then he was asked to join Lieutenant Governor, David Dewhurst at a press conference to announce legislation to get funding for at least one AED in every public school.
Matt had to take it easy for about six weeks after placement of his ICD. Shortly after that he began exercising. One afternoon he was working out on the treadmill. When he was finished he suddenly felt a shock in his chest which literally knocked him off his feet. At first he thought he had been struck by lightening. There had been a thunderstorm that afternoon. Then it happened again and he realized his defibrillator was shocking him. He wondered if he was in ventricular fibrillation. Matt was shocked eight times that afternoon, about once every 15 seconds or so. After the third shock he curled up into a ball, held his breath and waited for it to stop. His aunt and girlfriend were with him that afternoon. They called EMS and he was taken to the emergency room. His dad and I joined him there, along with his cardiologist and the defibrillator company's representative.
Here's what happened. The defibrillator has a standard setting and it measures the larger wave (the QRS complex) on the EKG. The smaller T wave is not recognized by the defibrillator under normal circumstances. So let's say you're exercising and your heart rate goes up to 150. That's fine, the defibrillator takes a nap. For some reason, when Matt exercised that afternoon, the amplitude of the T wave increased and suddenly the defibrillator recognized another large wave. Now it wakes up because it thinks Matt's heart rate was something like 300! To the ICD that means ventricular fibrillation. Shock. Now Matt's heart rate is really going up. Shock. And up. Shock. I think it finally stopped when Matt rolled up in a ball and was able to calm down and slow his heart rate back down again.
Matt quotes Nietzsche, when he says "what doesn't kill you makes you stronger." I guess he knows.
Note: Please see Matt's Myspace page .