Lifestyle & Human Interest

'Literal Miracle': Rock-Climbing Teen Dies, Then Comes Back to Life After Being Pronounced Dead


Sammy Berko, an athletic 16-year-old from Texas, was rock climbing earlier this year when he went into cardiac arrest.

He’d climbed to the top at the rock gym, rung the bell, and then gone completely limp.

At first people thought he was pranking them, but when he didn’t snap out of it, the terrible realization that something was very wrong began to set in.

Paramedics arrived and administered CPR, but Sammy showed no signs of life. He was transported to a hospital, where they performed more life-saving measures, but still Sammy showed no signs of life.

After trying everything, and two hours after his heart had stopped, he was pronounced dead. The medical team left to give the grieving family some privacy, and his parents, Craig and Jennifer Berko, said their goodbyes.

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“I started talking to him, just telling him how much I love him and sorry that we didn’t know how to save him,” Jennifer told KRIV-TV. “I started praying, and suddenly my husband said, ‘Oh my gosh, he’s — he’s moving.'”

Sammy was breathing and his heart was pumping. The doctors said they’d never seen anything like it, according to what the Berkos shared on their GoFundMe page.

Sammy has no recollection of the traumatic event.

“I don’t remember anything about the day it happened,” he said. “The last thing I remember is the night before we had to sign waivers online [for the rock climbing gym], and then I woke up.”

“I woke up in the transitional ICU and that’s the first thing I remember. The first thing I remember was literally my dad going, ‘OK, this is what happened and you better remember it this time,’ because he said it so many times.”

Dr. Stacey Hall, who is overseeing Sammy’s recovery, said there is no real medical explanation for why he came back to life.

“I was very struck by his story,” Hall said. “It’s very gripping and very unusual. This is a young man who had this catecholaminergic polymorphic ventricular tachycardia, which is a super rare genetic disorder that affects his heart. … To me, he’s a literal miracle.”

Sadly, the Berko family had lost another son three years before to the same genetic condition that Sammy has. Now that they are aware of the issue, Sammy and Jennifer are taking medication to prevent any more episodes.

Sammy is alive, but he’s having to relearn a lot of the motion he took for granted as an active teenager after suffering a spinal injury resulting from his ordeal. He uses a wheelchair but has a lot of hope for the future.

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“I knew it would be a weird, crazy experience learning to walk again,” he said. “I notice that I’m better every day. I’m doing new things every single day.”

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Amanda holds an MA in Rhetoric and TESOL from Cal Poly Pomona. After teaching composition and logic for several years, she's strayed into writing full-time and especially enjoys animal-related topics.
As of January 2019, Amanda has written over 1,000 stories for The Western Journal but doesn't really know how. Graduating from California State Polytechnic University with a MA in Rhetoric/Composition and TESOL, she wrote her thesis about metacognitive development and the skill transfer between reading and writing in freshman students.
She has a slew of interests that keep her busy, including trying out new recipes, enjoying nature, discussing ridiculous topics, reading, drawing, people watching, developing curriculum, and writing bios. Sometimes she has red hair, sometimes she has brown hair, sometimes she's had teal hair.
With a book on productive communication strategies in the works, Amanda is also writing and illustrating some children's books with her husband, Edward.
Austin, Texas
Languages Spoken
English und ein bißchen Deutsch
Topics of Expertise
Faith, Animals, Cooking