HOUSTON - Dugan Chandler was in Bellville, Texas calf roping in October 2020. He felt fine while doing competing, not one alarming symptom. Yet, seconds after he rode out of the arena, he slumped over on his horse and died from cardiac arrest.
"I remember I had a pretty good run; I ran the calf probably halfway down the arena and I had a decent run," explains Dugan. "I remember talking to some of my friends and then after that everything went black and ever since then it was just like, I don't remember anything until the next day."
Two people in the audience raced over to help when they realized Dugan wasn't breathing.
One started CPR, but it wasn't working. A medic in the crowd had an old defibrillator in his car but didn't know if it would work.
"It came off the market in 2007 and so no parts were available for that. So how this device worked, I'm not sure, but it worked," states Nurse Practitioner Christine Meliones from UT Physicians and UTHealth Houston, who plays a big role on Dugan's medical team, when he eventually got to Children's Memorial Hermann Hospital.
Back in the arena, they were able to shock Dugan's heart back to life before LifeFlight rushed him from Bellville to Children's Memorial Hermann in the Texas Medical Center.
"I remember I woke up, and I just asked my parents what happened because I had absolutely no idea when it happened," says Dugan. "I was like at a rodeo and all of a sudden in a hospital."
Dugan had suffered from sudden cardiac arrest and underwent a procedure to help prevent it from happening again.
"He has an implantable cardioverter-defibrillator in his chest, which allows continuous monitoring of his heart rate and rhythm," explains Christine. "So anytime he has a disruption in his heart rate and rhythm, I am able to see that. I like to refer to it as the guardian angel for our patients."
"There is a guardian angel in your chest now," she added. "You had guardian angels that day. You have guardian angels every day, sitting and watching everything that's going on with your heart rate and rhythm and that's something that we provide at the hospital."
The Chandler family has grown close to Dugan's caring nurse practitioner, Christine. Dugan was considering going into business in college in Texas but is now considering a career change.
He was so impressed with Christine's degree from Duke University, as well as her husband's, who is also a physician, and their son, as well. He tells us he was thrilled when Christine wrote him a letter of recommendation for Duke, which is where he will go to school in the fall.
"After this event, it kind of just opened my eyes to what I wanted to do. I wanted to be hands-on and help people. So, the plan right now is to do something in medicine, something in healthcare."
Dugan's even considering cardiology! His medical team couldn't be prouder. Christine says she sees great things in him and knows he'll be a huge success in anything he does.
Dugan has gone to a Catholic school his entire life and has deep-seated faith, but he says this experience has taken his faith to a whole new level. He's beyond thankful for everyone who worked so hard to bring him back to life.
"It's from the people who were there, in their quick response to the ambulance, the LifeFlight, to the Memorial Hermann doctors, all of them came together. That's what really allows me to be where I am today," says Dugan.
Now Dugan can lasso his bright future ahead. It took him about three months to fully recover and get back to his regular activities, like calf roping and playing basketball again.