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Basketball Player Defies Odds Post-Cardiac Arrest

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Copyright 2018 The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
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The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

 

David Skogman never got the opportunity to complete the three-point play.

More importantly, however, he was given a chance to live.

In June, Skogman, a 6-foot-10 forward for Waukesha West and one of the top senior basketball recruits in the state, was showcasing his talents during a summer league game in Burlington.

Just a few months prior, late in his junior season with the Wolverines, Skogman had become one of the fastest-rising basketball prospects in Wisconsin. He had picked up a handful of offers from NCAA Division I mid-major programs and was catching the eyes of more college coaches entering a season on the AAU circuit.

"Things were taking off for him," Waukesha West head coach Don LaValle said. "Colleges were really starting to take notice of this 6-foot-10 kid that could do it all."

That's when an and-one changed — and nearly ended — his life.

A 10 percent chance to live

In the opening minutes of that summer league game, Skogman finished through contact in the paint and walked to the free throw line to potentially cap the three-point play.

"I was going to the line and I just collapsed," Skogman said. "It was just completely out of nowhere."

A healthy 17-year-old with no family history of heart problems, Skogman was suffering from cardiac arrest, the life-threatening emergency that occurs when someone's heart suddenly stops beating. The victim loses consciousness and the ability to breathe.

Nine out of 10 out-of-hospital sudden cardiac arrest victims die, and the chances of survival decrease by 10 percent with every minute CPR is not admistered, according to the Sudden Cardiac Arrest Foundation.

"You see him there and it's just show-stopping," Waukesha West head coach Don LaValle said. "The gym gets cleared out and it was all like in slow motion. I just kept thinking as we're going through the crisis management, I'm just praying, 'Please, God, make this work out. Please let him live.'"

Immediately, David's mother, Sheryl, bolted from the bleachers. A former nurse, she knew that the odds were against her son.

On the floor, Sheryl performed CPR immediately while the paramedics were called, and Wolverines assistant coach Matt Heuser took off to find the school's automated external defibrillator.

"Mom's at a lot of games, but sometimes it's just his dad there by himself," LaValle said. "So now we can say it was the right people there at the right time at the right place. If dad had been there, we might be talking about a different story."

Once the defibrillator arrived, it was used to deliver an electrical shock to help the heart re-establish an effective rhythm.

"When they shocked me, I jolted up right after that, maybe 30 seconds to a minute later," Skogman said. "I was sort of paralyzed at that point. I was looking around while on the ground, just looking up at the hoop and my mom, wondering what was going on."

The swift and decisive actions in those six minutes saved his life.

Basketball future in question

Nobody told Skogman what exactly had happened until that evening in the hospital. Concerned about the health of his heart, doctors simply told him he had fainted as they ran tests to try to diagnose the problem.

Eventually, while reclined in his hospital bed, Skogman heard the news.

"I was obviously kind of emotionally shook over everything that had happened," he said. "Like, you don't go to the court expecting to only have a 10 percent chance to live."

Finding out that he suffered sudden cardiac arrest wasn't the worst part, though.

"The first time I got really sad was when the doctor said, 'Well, we're not sure if you'll ever be able to play basketball again because of what happened with your heart,'" Skogman said.

His mind went racing. Was his dream of playing college basketball going to end in a matter of six minutes during a summer league game? What about those eight Division I offers he had already earned, any of which meant he wouldn't need to pay for college?

Skogman remained in the hospital for a week as he underwent surgery and doctors ran tests on his heart to find out what was wrong.

In the end, though, there was no news to report, which in a way was also good news.

"That's why my doctor cleared me," Skogman said. "He said that obviously something was wrong, but we don't know what it was so they couldn't tell me that I couldn't play.

"If this had happened 10, 15 years ago, they would have shut me down. But because of medical advancements they didn't rule it out."

A changed perspective

Skogman has not only continued to play, but his ascent to becoming one of the state's most sought-after prospects hasn't been inhibited one bit.

Since the episode in mid-June, he has picked up eight more scholarship offers, including some from high-major programs Texas Tech and Rutgers. Coaches from Wisconsin, Boston College and Kansas State also have watch him play at Waukesha West open gyms.

"It's been a forever-changing experience," Skogman said of the past nine months. "I've gotten the low-majors in the spring, and then in the summer I had the heart problems and ended up getting some high-major offers. I'm definitely looking to go to a bigger school right now."

LaValle has seen a new side of Skogman since the incident this summer. On the court, Skogman's drive for basketball has taken off; off it, he calls the senior's "zest for life" off the charts.

"The thing that I've been most impressed with is that he's been through this roller coaster of emotions physically, emotionally, socially, not knowing what his future looks like," LaValle said. "He's learned so much from this and he still looks at it through a positive lens. It's unbelievable."

Skogman put on 40 pounds in the off-season, morphing from a wiry, 180-pound big man who could stretch the floor and shoot into a dominant physical post presence.

He spoke at the school's freshman orientation in front of the class of about 300 students and later addressed 150 families and shared his story at a Junior Wolverine program event.

"It honestly just gave me an appreciation for life that I didn't have before," Skogman said. "All of these things that you just take for granted, like basketball or going to school, they mean a lot to me now."

Skogman, an all-conference performer, has raised his scoring average from 11.8 points a game to 17.4, his rebounding from 10.4 to 16 and he is blocking nearly three shots a game.

"David was always a good player, but it's like he's just on a mission now to be the best he can possibly be," LaValle said. "Nobody can stop him."

Skogman has hit 64 three-pointers in his career but has added a stronger post game in the senior season. Through five games, he is getting to the free throw line more than ever.

Each time Skogman steps to the line, receives the ball from the official and bounces it a few times, he takes a deep breath and focuses on the rim. Here he is, in the same spot where his life could have ended. His journey on the basketball court has come full circle.

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December 19, 2018
 
 
 

 

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