Dan Carlson went into cardiac arrest while at work on a hot Thursday in July. He doesn't remember anything about the day, but he knows from co-workers he collapsed and was unconscious. They weren't even sure if he was alive.
Thanks to Tina Charles, he not only lived, but was home by Sunday, after a brief hospital stay.
Through her Hopey's Heart Foundation, an automated external defibrillator (AED) was placed at Marbridge Foundation, a residential facility for those with intellectual disabilities, in Austin, Texas, where Carlson works as a landscaper. After placing a 911 call for help when Carlson was discovered on the ground, a co-worker was asked if an AED was available and then was instructed to use it.
Carlson began breathing after it was administered. He believes the device saved his life.
"I know my aunt would be so happy, and I hope this inspires other people to start their own foundations or just get involved with things they care about." Tina Charles, who started Hopey's Heart Foundation in her aunt's memory
The Marbridge Foundation told Charles about the incident soon after, and she was hopeful to one day meet Carlson and hear about his experience. On Friday, the New York Liberty surprised its star player at practice, as Carlson walked onto the court, with Charles' mom, Angella Murry.
"At first I was confused and thought it was strange my mom was there and not at work," Charles said shortly after the meeting. "But then I saw Dan and all the cameras and I understood. He said, 'I'm here because of you.' I broke down after that. It really got my emotions going."
And the feeling was mutual. Carlson, 59, couldn't remember exactly what he said to the woman he says is responsible for saving his life.
"There were a lot of tears going around, a lot of hugs," he said. "I don't recall specifically what I said, but I know it was 'Thank you.'
"I thanked her for her compassion and generosity. I wouldn't be here, standing here talking right now, if it weren't for her, and I think I told her that."
The Liberty brought Carlson, his wife, Barbara, and two co-workers from the Marbridge Foundation to New York. They attended practice and will be honored at Friday night's game against San Antonio. Despite originally being from upstate New York, it's Carlson's first time in the Big Apple, and he's taking full advantage. He's feeling back to full health these days, less than two months after the frightening ordeal. He takes daily medication but otherwise has no restrictions.
Charles, a former WNBA MVP and five-time All-Star, started the foundation in 2013 after the death of her beloved aunt Maureen "Hopey" Vaz due to multiple organ failure. Wanting to honor her life and her generous spirit, and having recently heard about the death of high school basketball player Wes Leonard due to sudden cardiac arrest, Charles was inspired to help place AEDs in schools, recreational centers and other community organizations around the country. She hoped the tragic loss of her aunt could help prevent the deaths of countless others.
Since its start, Hopey's Heart has donated over 300 AEDs (each one costs between $1,200 and $1,600) and Charles has contributed her entire salary for the past two seasons to the cause. It's truly a labor of love for Charles and her mom, who is Vaz's sister. With no other employees, the mother-daughter duo do it all from soliciting donations to reading over grants and determining which organizations to help. It's challenging work, but Charles is proud to know it's making an impact.
"The goal of Hopey's Heart Foundation is to save lives, first and foremost," she said. "And I don't know how many lives we've saved, but Dan is the first person we know about. I know my aunt would be so happy, and I hope this inspires other people to start their own foundations or just get involved with things they care about."
Since she learned of Carson's story in July, he has been a constant reminder for Charles of why she does what she does, and invests so much time, energy and money. She hopes to visit the Marbridge Foundation at some point in the offseason to see Carlson again and thank everyone who helped revive him.
While Carlson admitted he isn't much of a sports fan, he said he will always be a Tina Charles fan and forever appreciate their unlikely bond.
"I will definitely be following her career," he said. "She is truly something special, on and off the court. I'm so grateful for her."