AUSTIN (KXAN) — It was September 2006, and Westlake football star Matt Nader felt on top of the world.
“I was going into my senior year. I was committed to play for the University of Texas, Mack Brown and the Longhorns,” Nader said.
But on the field at College Station on that hot and humid evening, something didn’t feel right.
“I remember being really lethargic, and just kind of feeling malaise… and being tired, and just not quite as acute as I normally would be,” he recalled.
After his team scored a touchdown, he said he remembered sitting on a bench to talk to his coach about the drive.
“All of a sudden, I felt an explosion of pain in my chest and started to lose consciousness, and I kind of slumped off the back of the bench,” Nader said.
Nader suffered a cardiac arrest.
“Basically, my heart stopped beating. It was kind of quivering like a bowl of Jell-O instead of pumping,” he said.
His parents, both physicians, rushed down from the stands to perform CPR until they could get an Automated External Defibrillator (AED) to shock his heart back into action.
Luckily, Westlake High had an AED on the sidelines.
“We all kind of just ran down en masse and started, you know, kind of taking over, so his parents wouldn’t have to do CPR on their own son,” said Dr. Paul Tucker, an interventional cardiologist with St. David’s who happened to be in the stands and helped save Nader in 2006.
They got an AED on Nader and shocked him — one shock that saved his life.
“Unlike Damar Hamlin, Matt at least did not have to be put on the ventilator,” Tucker said.
Nader’s family discovered he had an undiagnosed heart condition.
While Hamlin’s cause for cardiac arrest isn’t yet known, Tucker said there are ways to spot the signs when one is happening, even at the local level, like at high school football games.
“We were watching live last night, and the way [Hamlin] collapsed, I turned to my wife, I said, ‘That’s a heart problem right there,'” Tucker said.
He said the way Hamlin fell was a sign.
“Someone who just collapsed the way he did where he literally went straight back… onto his helmet,” Tucker explained. “When someone doesn’t try to break their fall, they’re unconscious when they’re falling. So that’s a big clue.”
Tucker, whose son, Justin Tucker, plays for the Baltimore Ravens, said an athlete might also be kneeling, sitting or lying down.
“Either holding their chest or looking visibly in distress, might be pale,” Tucker described.
He said it may all come down to an astute coach noticing their player is not looking right.
“‘I don’t know what it is, but he just doesn’t look like he feels well. Those are all reasons to intervene, get the young man or woman off the field,” Tucker said.
He recommends all student-athletes do the pre-participation physical exam.
“There are certain questions we ask, you know, ‘Do you ever feel dizzy when you exercise? Have you ever fainted with exercise?'” he said. “Those are all major red flags to us that ‘hey, this person needs more screening and more evaluation probably by a cardiologist.'”
Some local school districts went further.
Coach Anthony Wood with Round Rock ISD said while the University Interscholastic League (UIL) requires a physical every other year, his district requires one every year.
He also said each campus has an emergency action plan that is practiced once a year, and coaches are CPR and AED trained every two years, adding AED safety checks are done periodically.
Wood also said the district offers heart screens through local hospitals parents can choose to get for their children.
Tucker also recommends multiple people on the sidelines who can jump in in an emergency.
“You need to always have a few people, not just one, on the sidelines… that is ready for that type of a thing, whether it be at an athletic trainer on the team, a coach, but somebody who knows how to do CPR,” he said. “And somebody who knows how to open the defibrillator package and put it on the patient.”
Tucker is glad Nader has helped pass a state law that requires AEDs at high school-sponsored games and practices.
Both said everyone can do more, like learning CPR.
“If you are armed with the knowledge on how to do CPR, when to do CPR, why to do CPR, and you do have AEDs available, you can save lives, point blank,” Nader said.
He thinks all high schools should even make CPR certification a requirement before graduation.
Nader, who has now been selling defibrillators for more than a decade with Abbott Laboratories, said without CPR-certified people to bridge his heartbeat until the AED shocked it, he wouldn’t be alive — and he thinks Hamlin wouldn’t be either.
“No matter what, at the end of the day, right then and there, if he didn’t have first responders who were prepared to do what is necessary to save a life, he wouldn’t be here,” Nader said.
It’s what drives Nader’s new purpose of sudden cardiac arrest advocacy, pushing for more CPR-certified people, more AEDs and more free heart screenings as a board member of Championship Hearts Foundation.