Caring Bridge / Sammy Berko

Texas teen Sammy Berko from Missouri, Texas, had made it to the top of a rock-climbing wall when the 16-year-old suddenly went limp. “He climbed to the top of the wall, rang the bell, as we were told, and then his body went limp, and it looked like he was either playing around or passed out. They weren’t quite sure, and when they realized he was unresponsive, they lowered him slowly,” Sammy’s mother, Jennifer recalled of the incident, which happened on January 7th. When Sammy was finally lowered down, everyone soon realized that he had gone into cardiac arrest. Workers at the rock wall climbing gym began CPR until paramedics arrived. They could not revive Sammy at the scene, and he was brought to Houston’s Texas Children’s Medical Center. Sammy was declared dead at the Emergency Room after two hours of CPR. “They looked at us and said, ‘I’m so sorry, but he’s gone,” his mother said.

Sammy’s parents sat with him to say their goodbyes. But then something amazing happened. “I started talking to him, just telling him how much I love him and sorry that we didn’t know how to save him. Suddenly, as I started praying, my husband said, ‘Oh my gosh, he’s moving,” said his mother. The medical team returned and was able to locate a pulse. Sammy was intubated and put on a ventilator along with a series of heart medications. The professionals told Sammy’s parents they had never seen anything like it. “We just stood there,” said his mother. “I mean, grateful is the biggest understatement ever to know that he might make it.” Due to the amount of time Sammy had spent without oxygen, and the doctors expected him to experience severe brain damage. But Sammy surprised everyone again and only suffered short-term memory loss, which lasted for several weeks. His mother recalled she and her husband having to tell Sammy over and over what had happened since he couldn’t remember the accident. “We kept telling him the story so many times that we eventually wrote it out, and we just gave it to him on a piece of paper, and every time he asked, we just pointed at the piece of paper. He asked them every single time, in the same order, the same exact questions, and it was every two minutes,” said Craig, Sammy’s dad.

Sammy is now recovering strength in his legs, which are very weak due to spending a month hospitalized. He also suffered a spinal cord injury from his collapse. Dr. Stacy Hall has been overseeing Sammy’s rehabilitation. She called his recovery a miracle. “We do see kids all the time here who have had CPR, but with very prolonged CPR, we typically see very severe global anoxic brain injury, so to me, he is a literal miracle,” she said. 

For his part, Sammy appears to be taking it all in stride. Smiling during an interview, he spoke glowingly of his recovery. “I knew it would be a weird, crazy experience learning to walk again and working on strength without using my legs to be able to balance me. It has just been an amazing experience here, actually, like I’ve noticed that I’m better every day! I’m doing something new every single day.” Sammy’s accident has had a positive: the discovery of a genetic mutation in Sammy and his mother that is believed to have caused his cardiac arrest. It is also believed to have been what killed Sammy’s brother, Frankie, who died three years ago at the same age that Sammy is now. Frankie had suffered a series of seizures until one ultimately took his life. Doctors had saved some of Frankie’s DNA and discovered the mutation after Sammy’s incident. Now he and his mother are on medications to prevent further cardiac arrest. 

Sammy’s recovery will continue as his family adjusts to their home to prepare for his wheelchair. Currently, the family has insurance to pay for therapy but stated that their insurance would only pay for a few more sessions, while Sammy is expected to need years of therapy. Local youth group Congregation Beth El and Ridge Point High School teamed up and raised over $10,000 for Sammy’s recovery. Further ways to give can be found at Sammy’s GoFundMe here     

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