A former athlete and sudden cardiac arrest survivor turns pain into purpose

On February 1, 2023, nearly one month after suffering a sudden cardiac arrest during Monday Night Football, Damar Hamlin and the American Heart Association launched his #3forHeart CPR Challenge. Yet, 600 miles away, the number 3, held a much different meaning to another athlete.

Former basketball star Omar Carter suffered a sudden cardiac arrest on July 9, 2013, during a professional amateur basketball game. His heart stopped beating for 13 minutes, he was shocked three times and given less than a 3% chance to live. During the 2023 American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions Conference in Philadelphia, Carter shared more about his story.

At just 25-years old, a young and otherwise healthy Carter’s life would forever be changed. It was an ICU cardiac nurse who hadn’t attended any of the local games in two years, that helped save his life by performing chest compressions. On the way to the hospital, Carter slipped into a coma, when doctors had seemingly given up hope.

Though the road to recovery hasn’t been easy, through his strong faith and family support, Carter found the strength to look beyond his limitations. “I think for me, I was trying to figure out what it was that I was going through, and I had no knowledge of it,” Carter shared. “I was embarrassed to have had a cardiac arrest…I was fighting to continue playing my dream of professional basketball, but I was embarrassed.” Carter continued to deal with emotions that many couldn’t relate to, repeatedly asking himself, “Will my friends, still be my friends?”. In addition to dealing with physical and mental wellness and rebuild, he was struggling with the reality of having to make difficult decisions about his future to include personal and professional life scenarios. How could it be, that he, who was just getting started, living out his dream, have it all ripped from under him? Again, he relied on and stayed steadfast in his faith.

About a year after Carter’s cardiac arrest, the Omar Carter Foundation was born. With goals to teach one million people Hands-Only CPR, increase AED surveillance, and advocating on behalf of sudden cardiac arrest survivors, the foundation has seen success across the board. His alma mater, Appalachian State University, helped catapult his numbers by launching his first initiative, training 3,000 students in Hands-Only CPR, again the number 3, leaving a lasting impact.

As he detailed intimately the things, he’s been through in the past decade as a sudden cardiac arrest survivor, it’s abundantly clear that his story and his actions are changing lives across the country. When asked about the American Heart Association’s latest initiative Nation of Lifesavers, Carter responded, “To learn about the new initiative is extremely valuable. Obviously with my story and what happened with me, bystanders stepped up and they were able to save my life, so this new initiative will not only save countless lives, but it will give opportunities to other individuals like myself who may have questions around what they went through, if they can lead a normal life, or even just empowering someone to teach the lifesaving skill of Hands-Only CPR. To learn about the initiative is amazing and I think it’s one that can be accomplished maybe before 2030; each one teach one”.

The goal of the American Heart Association’s Nation of Lifesavers™ is to turn bystanders into lifesavers, so that in the time of cardiac emergency anyone, anywhere is prepared and empowered to become a vital link in the chain of survival and provide CPR. The movement aims to double survival rate from sudden cardiac arrest by 2030 and Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin serves as National Ambassador.

Today, Carter continues to travel around the world, to share his story and perspective, with a distinct appreciation for bystanders, AEDs and the ability to educate others. To learn more about Omar Carter and the Omar Carter Foundation visit www.omarcarterfoundation.org.