‘You had a guardian angel that night’: Teen rodeo athlete recovers after suffering sudden cardiac arrest during competition

Young rider has cardiac arrest in arena

Dugan Chandler placed third in competition at a rodeo in Belville last year. He looked like a strong competitor but had no idea his life was about to change.

“He performed that well, gets back on his horse, walks out, and then his life forever changed a minute later,” Karlissa Chandler, Dugan’s mother, said.

“It just went black, and I don’t remember anything until I woke up in the hospital,” Dugan Chandler said.

Days later, Christine Meliones, PNP, and pediatric cardiology nurse practitioner with UT Physicians and UTHealth Houston, tried getting to the bottom of what happened by taking the AED used on Dugan to a local fire station for help.

“They were able to download the strips and that allowed us to identify that this was a true ventricular fibrillation arrest, a true sudden cardiac arrest, because there were a lot of questions,” Meliones said.

The machine was 13-years-old and Meliones said she would have assumed it didn’t work, but somehow it did, and dramatically increased Dugan’s chance of survival.

“You had a guardian angel that night. That saved your life. You continue to have a guardian angel,” she told Dugan, “with the implanted defibrillator.”

The defibrillator will notify the team at Memorial Hermann if there’s ever anything wrong with his heart. So far, it hasn’t stopped him from competing in rodeo events.

“If somebody did not believe in him, he was going to make darn sure you did,” Karlissa Chandler said.

Eight months after he left the hospital, Dugan was back up on the horse.

“That competitive aspect is still there, but I feel like it doesn’t control me as much anymore and I’m a lot more thankful now,” Dugan said. “Every rodeo I go to, I enjoy it a lot more now.”

This entire ordeal has taken Dugan on a path he never expected. He said several people on his Memorial Hermann team attended Duke University and he got them to write him a letter of recommendation.

Dugan said he’s been accepted and starts Duke this fall. He plans to pursue a career in medicine and said he hopes he can share with patients how something negative can be a positive thing in the end.