Like many young adults, Omar Carter thought the most active years of his life were ahead of him.
A two-year Appalachian State Basketball standout, the Charlotte native made the transition to professional basketball in the summer of 2012. After his rookie season in Brazil, he returned home and would often play in a local pro-am league near his home to keep his skills sharp.
On July 11th, 2013, during a game at the Grady Cole Center in Charlotte, Carter collapsed on the floor, victim of a sudden cardiac arrest. Kelly Thomas, a cardiac nurse from Gastonia happened to be in the gym when Carter’s heart stopped. She checked his pulse, located a defibrillator, and administered CPR until transport arrived more than ten minutes later.
Carter was in intensive care for more than a week after being placed in a medically-induced coma. As he recovered he suffered from the mental aspects of his trauma as much as the physical. Going from 25-year old professional basketball player to the Cardiac ICU is jarring. In the face of a lifestyle change, Carter felt he could turn his experience into a vehicle to educate others.
Shortly after his release from the hospital, the Omar Carter Foundation (OCF) was formed. The charity focuses on the training of athletes and families in cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), the use of automated external defibrillators (AED), and cardiovascular education. Carter has established a voice in the Charlotte community by partnering with billion-dollar companies like Carolinas Healthcare System and Microsoft to bring education and outreach to large scale community gatherings.
Through a partnership with Appalachian Regional Health Care System (ARHS), the Beaver College of Health Sciences at Appalachian State, the Wake Forest School of Medicine Physician’s Assistant program, and App State Athletics, Carter is bringing his message of training and awareness of cardiac health issues to Boone.
“It’s an honor to come back to my alma mater and be able to give back to the community in a way that I wasn’t able to before,” said Carter. “Cardiac disease does not discriminate and it’s important to reach all ages and backgrounds to help educate people on how they can stay healthy and, maybe even more importantly, what to do if they encounter someone going through a cardiac event. I’m happy that we’ve been able to create this partnership with App State and ARHS to bring important information to the community.”
On February 6th, Carter conducted a special seminar with current Appalachian State University student-athletes, where he talked about the importance of cardiac health and the aftermath of dealing with such a life-altering episode at a young age. He was joined by Dr. Donna Denier, Medical Director for Cardiology, and Ms. Lesley Hastings, Director of Cardiovascular and Surgical Services from ARHS who spoke about the statistics and figures of sudden cardiac events, the importance of signs and symptoms and fielded overall clinical questions from the group. The student-athletes in attendance were also able to partake in bystander CPR training, led by Ms. Hastings, Dr. Denier and Mr. Carter. This training serves as the core focus of Carter’s outreach vision.
Chuck Mantooth, ARHS’s President and CEO commented on the collaborative by saying, “Despite advances in treatment of heart disease, it is still the leading cause of death in our region. We are excited to be part of the Healthy Heart Community Collaborative. It presents a unique opportunity to provide CPR and AED education and training to thousands of people in the High Country, in a new and meaningful way.”
Carter will return to town with OCF to conduct a series of campus lectures, community events, and CPR training sessions Friday, February 16 and Saturday, February 17th. The goal of these sessions will be to provide bystander training to students and members of the community, so they will know the proper steps to take should they encounter a sudden cardiac event.
Friday morning, Carter will be joined by Leslie Hastings ARHS to address the Boone Area Chamber of Commerce Business Development Committee meeting. The conversation will center on the importance of bystander CPR training and AED placement in the workplace.
From there, the group moves to Watauga High School for a special assembly of the full student-body, where Carter, Dr. Donna Denier, and other ARHS staff, will discuss cardiac health issues. Since 2014-15, high school students in North Carolina have been required to complete CPR and first aid training as a graduation requirement.
Later Friday morning, Carter partners with Dr. Zack Hollis, a former Appalachian State Cross Country runner, who currently serves as a cardiac electrophysiology fellow at Johns Hopkins University for a campus lecture titled, Cardiac Disease and Sudden Cardia Arrest: Prevention, Response, and Recovery. This event is sponsored by the Beaver College of Health Sciences and will include App State students, members of the cardiology team at ARHS, Wake Forest School of Medicine PA students, and other community leaders. Bystander CPR training for the campus community will be made available during a special session inside Plemons Student Union immediately following the lecture.
“We are delighted to collaborate with the Omar Carter Foundation, along with Appalachian Regional Healthcare and the Boone Chamber of Commerce, to participate in the Healthy Heart Collaborative, “said Dr. Marie Huff, Dean of the Beaver College of Health Sciences. “The goal of the Omar Carter Foundation is to provide cardiac education and CPR training to as many people as possible, and it aligns strongly with our mission to enhance the health and quality of life for the individuals and communities that we serve.”
Saturday afternoon, OCF and ARHS will provide bystander CPR training at the Appalachian State Basketball games at the Holmes Convocation Center. In addition to training stations and information tables, many awareness events are planned during the game to further educate the audience on cardiac health topics and create more understanding about the vast array of treatment options available in the local community by ARHS.
The Omar Carter Foundation creates various events that are community centered and incorporate three areas of focus: education, awareness, and philanthropy. Carter has teamed with Dr. Rohit Mehta, a clinical cardiac electrophysiologist at Sanger Heart & Vascular Institute in Charlotte to create the curriculum to help people become better prepared in the case of a sudden cardiac emergency.
For more information on the foundation, please visit omarcarterfoundation.org.
For further information regarding cardiac care services provided by Appalachian Regional Healthcare System, please visit apprhs.org/services/heart
For more information on educational opportunities provided within the Beaver College of Health Sciences, please visit healthsciences.appstate.edu/