You’re basketball’s Freshman of the Year at Charleston Southern and preseason Player of the Year at Appalachian State. You’ve played summer leagues in Brazil and the Dominican Republic. You’re 25 years old and in peak condition. So what happens next?
You experience sudden cardiac arrest.
That was the unlikely arc that life took for Omar Carter, a Charlotte-based athlete with big dreams and an even bigger heart. So big in fact, that he was diagnosed with Athletes Heart Syndrome (AHS), a condition where the heart is too large for the body. It shows up most often in athletes and has begun to appear in kids as young as age 12. It can be fatal. He also has cardiac arrhythmia, an irregular heart beat.
“There were no warning signs. No chest pain. Just some light-headedness,” Omar explained. “My friend passed me the ball. I passed it back. And that’s when I collapsed.”
Omar’s collapse happened during a summer league game in Charlotte, where Kelly Thomas, a cardiac intensive care nurse at Carolinas Medical Center, just happened to be in the audience (pictured below). His heart stopped for a surprising 13 minutes, as she continued performing CPR to restart his heart and used an Automated External Defibrillator (AED) to regulate its rhythm.
“I’m very grateful to her,” he said. “She saved my life.”
Omar had been seeing cardiologists for years at the Sanger Heart & Vascular Institute. They were keeping close watch of his condition, but there’s no way to predict sudden cardiac arrest. As part of his treatment under the leadership of the Institute’s Dr. Rohit Mehta, Omar was asked to talk to patients dealing with similar diagnoses.
Unable to get back on the court, Omar rechanneled his energies. Spurred by his mother’s suggestion, he started a foundation to educate families about heart disease and CPR. He approached Carolinas HealthCare System for support, and they welcomed him with open arms.
Omar explains: “Dr. Mehta said, ‘Hey, I’m behind you 100 percent. Let’s make this happen.” And the Omar Carter Foundation was born.
“We give people hands-on knowledge of CPR. We want to teach a million people. That’s my number — to teach a million and also give free EKGs, ultrasounds and education about AEDs.”
Never mind that a million is a staggering number. With Omar’s winning smile and steely determination, he just might reach it.
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