The trouble is, there is no warning.
Danny Berger had none on a routine basketball afternoon this week for the Aggies.
Neither did Carlton Oats, Jr. at a 1987 Utah State football practice.
They are two young student-athletes linked by their connection to USU athletics and by the care each received from the Aggie athletic training staff at a perilous time in their lives.
One made it, one did not.
We know the remarkable events of this week and of athletic trainer Mike Williams’ heroic measures to save Berger’s life.
Oats’ story is mostly forgotten, shrouded in the quarter century since the freshman took the field for the very first practice of Chuck Shelton’s second season as the Aggie head football coach.
At 9:30 in the morning the temperature was in the 70s and it had rained the night before so heat was not a factor. The Aggies were going through conditioning drills.
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Dale Mildenberger, Aggie head athletic trainer then and now, remembers it all: “Carlton was an 18-year old freshman from Oakland, Calif. He was having trouble on the field, he started cramping up, was breathing hard. We got him into the training room and he collapsed, his breathing stopped, his heart stopped. Student trainer Gary McKenzie and I started CPR.
“We restored a pulse and breathing, an ambulance arrived. Carlton was transported to Logan Regional Hospital and later to the University of Utah Medical Center.
“We all had taken a sigh of relief. That evening he died at the University of Utah.”
Imagine the rush of memories when Mildenberger took a call Tuesday afternoon from his assistant, Williams, telling him Berger had collapsed at basketball practice and was being rushed by ambulance from the Spectrum to Logan Regional Hospital. Mike calmly asked Dale to meet the ambulance when it arrived at the hospital.
Recounting this story mid-day Thursday, it was only then Dale said he finally allowed himself another sigh of relief, 25 years later, upon news of Berger’s improvement at a hospital in Salt Lake City.
“It was apparent the circumstances of 1987 were going to be different this time than they were then,” said Mildenberger, his voice quivering with emotion. “It was a tragic loss of a student-athlete under my care. I’ve never gotten over his death.”
For 40 years Dale, who retires in May, has begun each new fall season training his team of assistants their foremost responsibility is to preserve life. In their day-to-day world of taping ankles and providing therapy sessions, it’s something he won’t let them forget.
It is no consolation to Mildenberger, who became a certified EMT in college, that he followed all protocols in the care of Carlton Oats, as did his protégé Williams this week with Berger.
“My responsibility was to Carlton Oats, Jr. and he did not survive,” Mildenberger said.
The AED (automatic external defibrillator) Williams used along with CPR to revive Berger was not available to Mildenberger in 1987. Yet he still revived Oats.
Oats died of an enlarged heart. It was never diagnosed through years of routine physical examinations. His father, a defensive end with the Oakland Raiders, and his mother, a registered nurse, never knew.
One day, soon hopefully, Danny Berger will walk back into the Spectrum. Fans will go crazy. Dale will smile from his seat near the visiting team tunnel.
And the work he has done for decades preparing Williams and countless others to handle both the routine and dramatic moments of their profession will serve as a quiet validation his peers were justified inducting him into their National Hall of Fame years ago.
Craig Hislop is a longtime Cache Valley broadcaster, who can now be heard weekday mornings on KVNU. He is among a number of Cache Valley freelance writers whose columns appear in The Herald Journal as a part of an effort to expose readers to a variety of community voices. He is not an employee of the newspaper. He can be reached at email@example.com.