OLATHE, Kan — A Kansas family is speaking out following the collapse of Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin.
For nearly four years, the Connell family has been carrying their son Brennan’s baseball jersey with them. The jersey is torn apart and kept together with clothespins, but serves as a reminder of when they almost lost their son.
"This is the jersey they cut off my boy. It's together, but it represents how someone stepped up and saved his life,” Brian Connell said, while clutching Brennan’s jersey.
Brennan Connell went into sudden cardiac arrest while pitching for Olathe West against Blue Valley Southwest in May 2019. Brian Connell said there were no warning signs at the time of the incident.
"We look back and where was the damage probably caused was when he was 7 or 8 and took a baseball straight in the chest,” Brian Connell recalled, “It didn't happen 'til later in his life when he was under more athletic stress.”
The Connell family says their son wasn't watching the game between the Bengals and Bills, but images of the Bills players kneeling on the field after Hamlin’s collapse hit close to home.
"A lot of disbelief, a lot of shock,” Brian Connell said, “Watching a player go down brings back memories because I was there when my son collapsed on the pitcher's mound.”
Bystanders rushed to save Brennan Connell's life and Brian says if it weren’t for CPR and an AED (Automated External Defibrillator), his son wouldn’t have made it. He now carries an AED device everywhere he goes.
“I'm the AED guy because I don’t want this to happen to someone else,” Brian Connell said.
Brennan continued his high school baseball career and played college baseball at Fort Hayes State University. His father says as a parent, it was hard to navigate that line between supporting your child’s passion while also being aware of the dangers they may face.
"As parents, we've lived our lives and it's our job is to help them thrive and to live the best life that they can,” Brian Connell said.
Last year, the Connell family helped introduce a bill in Kansas, called the Sudden Cardiac Arrest Prevention Act, which would require school information and policies to address sudden cardiac arrest in school athletic activities.
The bill never made it out of the committee. However, Brian is now part of the Olathe School Board and is planning on introducing a similar requirement in the district come next week.
The many state athletic associations don't have any specific requirements about having medical staff or equipment on-site during sporting events, but many states require coaches and trainers to know CPR and how to use an AED device.
The American Heart Association says 350,000 people go through sudden cardiac arrest which happens when the heart's electrical system malfunctions. One in 10 people survive sudden cardiac arrest, but if CPR is performed immediately, chances of survival can double or even triple in some cases.
This article was written by Daniela Leon for KSHB.