A boy's heart stopped for 19 hours and then it started again

By Claire Wolters | Fact-checked by Jessica Wrubel
Published May 21, 2024

Key Takeaways

  • A four-year-old survived after undergoing 19 hours of cardiac arrest.

  • Surviving hours of cardiac arrest is unlikely but possible.

  • Cardiac arrest survival rates have increased in recent years.

  • Seeking medical attention for cardiac arrest can be crucial to help save lives.

In what some are calling a miracle, a young boy endured 19 hours of cardiac arrest and survived. According to NBC News, four-year-old Carter McDaniel had been on life support at a hospital in Colorado for many hours. After several unsuccessful attempts at restarting young McDaniel’s heart, NBC reported that doctors told parents their boy was unlikely to survive—and other family members who had gathered in the hospital readied themselves to say goodbye.[]

Miraculously, however, they would not need to.

McDaniel’s heart began beating again 19 hours after it stopped. Parents told NBC News that doctors had not been able to offer a scientific or medical explanation as to how their boy’s heart re-started. So instead, the parents thanked God.

Death from cardiac arrest

After the heart starts pumping, cells lose blood flow and oxygen, causing them to die at different rates. Exact rates can vary, and depend on how long someone is in cardiac arrest. But while researchers used to think that brain cells died in minutes after a person entered cardiac death, NYU Langone Health says that newer evidence shows that this process can actually take several hours–or even days–after the heart stops.[]

Prevalence of cardiac arrest in adults and children

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 365,000 people in the United States suffer cardiac arrest—outside of the hospital—each year. About 60% to 80% of these people die before they enter the hospital, according to the CDC.[]

When it comes to in-hospital cardiac arrests (IHCA) in the US, data from 2008 to 2017 shows that adults experience about 292,000 IHCAs, whereas children experienced 15,200. Other studies have shown that children who experienced IHCA are more likely to survive cardiac arrest than those who experience cardiac arrest outside of the hospital.[]

How long can someone survive cardiac arrest?

How long someone can survive after ongoing cardiac arrest varies widely. Some people can die within minutes of cardiac arrest, whereas others—like young McDaniel—may come to hours later. 

According to Cleveland Clinic, cardiac arrest survival rates have gone up in the last decade. For people who experience cardiac arrest outside of the hospital and are brought to care, about 11% survive an emergency treatments. For people who experience cardiopulmonary arrest in the hospital, about 26% survive and go home.[]

Unfortunately, even those who survive will likely not leave the hospital unscathed. People who experience cardiac arrest can be at risk for several physical and mental health conditions in the future.

According to NYU Langone Health, about 15% to 50% of patients report experiencing negative psychological impacts such as:[]

  • PTSD

  • Memory deficits 

  • Cognitive difficulties

  • Anxiety

  • Depression

Some people who experience cardiac arrest can experience positives, too. NYU Langone Health says that about 10% to 20% of cardiac arrest survivors report transformed perspectives on life and death, often accompanied by more altruistic thoughts.[]

Despite the low survival rates from cardiac arrest and risks that it poses, there is hope for life and recovery. Outside of the hospital, encourage patients to continue to seek medical help if they suspect a loved one is undergoing a medical emergency like cardiac arrest. Good medicine—and perhaps, miracles—may be able to work in their favor.

What this means for you

A young boy survived after undergoing 19 hours of cardiac arrest. His parents are calling his recovery a gift from God. Surviving hours of cardiac arrest is unlikely but possible.

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