Two Brothers With Rare Heart Condition Die 3 Years Apart — 2 Hours Later, One of Them Wakes Up
“He is a literal miracle.”
In 2020, Jennifer and Craig Berko suffered the unimaginable — losing their youngest son, 10-year-old Frankie, to a seizure.
Three years later, history seemed doomed to repeat itself when their oldest son, Sammy, 16, went into cardiac arrest and died.
But miraculously, he didn’t stay dead. Two hours later, he woke up. And doctors can’t explain how he did it.
Overcoming Death: A Miraculous Recovery
Sammy Berko, from Missouri City, Texas, died during what was supposed to be a fun day spent at a rock climbing gym with friends.
“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,” Jennifer told Houston’s Fox 26. “They weren’t quite sure and when they realized he was unresponsive, they lowered him slowly.”
Sammy’s heart had stopped. A bystander, who the Berkos later learned was a radiologist, immediately started CPR. Paramedics arrived shortly afterward and took over.
For TWO HOURS, paramedics and doctors desperately administered CPR before eventually calling it. The hospital staff left the grieving parents to say goodbye to yet another son.
Five minutes later…
“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 Jennifer.
Somehow, impossibly, Sammy had cheated death.
The doctors were beyond shocked.
“These are professionals who have been doing this their entire lives, who have seen the worst of the worst. Each and every one of them afterward came to us and said that they have never seen anything like this before. Ever. Never had they ever pronounced somebody and suddenly they came back five minutes later,” Jennifer said.
The doctors intubated him with a breathing tube and put him on a ventilator. But he wasn’t out of the woods yet.
“It was a very long night trying to keep him alive,” Craig Berko said. “His organs were massively failing, and we were told by the doctors that he’s probably going to be brain dead.”
One Miracle After Another
Not only did Sammy get a second chance at life, but amazingly, he suffered no neurological damage. Medically speaking, this was nearly impossible.
Because of going so long without oxygen to the brain, doctors predicted Sammy would be brain-dead or at best, live out the rest of his life with a severe brain injury. They were wrong.
“He’s doing amazing,” Dr. Stacey Hall, the medical director of the pediatric rehabilitation program at TIRR Memorial Hermann and one of Sammy’s doctors, told Fox 26.
“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.”
As a result of his cardiac arrest and multiple strokes, Sammy did suffer short-term memory loss for several weeks. He also suffered an ischemic spine injury, leaving him paralyzed from the waist down. He is currently in rehab regaining strength and learning to walk with assistance.
Sammy’s Experience Helped Explain His Brother’s Death
While in the hospital, doctors discovered that Sammy has an incredibly rare genetic disorder, Catecholaminergic polymorphic ventricular tachycardia (CPVT).
According to the National Library of Medicine, CPVT causes an irregular heart rhythm in response to adrenaline surges. If untreated, CPVT is highly lethal, with approximately 30% of affected individuals experiencing at least one cardiac arrest.
Sammy’s mother, Jennifer, also has it. So did his brother, Frankie. It’s what ultimately caused his death.
Sammy underwent a procedure to help resolve the problem, and he and his mom will be on several medications for life to help prevent cardiac arrest.
The Berkos hope that newborn screening for CPVT becomes more widely available so other families don’t have to go through the same fate.
How Death Puts Life Into Perspective
The family also says that their experience with death has put life into perspective. Because it’s often through death that many of us learn to live.
“You can’t take life for granted,” Craig Berko said. “[With Frankie] we’re having a good day and all of a sudden, boom, he’s gone. Life is really short and fragile.”
As we all go about our busy days, we tend to forget one undeniable truth: life is finite. Every fleeting moment we have is a gift.
Dying puts into perspective the preciousness of time spent with family and friends, the significance of living authentically, and the priceless act of being present in our own lives.
We are really here for only a short while, and it’s up to us to make every moment count.