One year after cardiac arrest, NJ high school hoops player back on the court

Photo: Jerry Carino/Asbury Park Press

One year after cardiac arrest, NJ high school hoops player back on the court

Boys Basketball

One year after cardiac arrest, NJ high school hoops player back on the court


MATAWAN — At first glance it’s an ordinary sight, a lanky 17-year-old drilling jump shots at a neighborhood park.

But if you know anything about Darrell Rogers, each swish is flat-out remarkable.

In May of 2018, the Matawan High School (Aberdeen, N.J.) point guard suffered sudden cardiac arrest during a club-team practice. He collapsed as he went up for a layup and was unresponsive until two coaches revived him through CPR. Helicoptered to Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick, Rogers spent four touch-and-go days on a ventilator.

“I honestly didn’t know when he woke up if he was going to remember me or his father,” mom Michelle Byron said. “To see him go from that to where he is now is amazing.”

Over three months in the hospital, Rogers essentially re-learned how to walk and talk.

“He couldn’t even sit up,” dad Darrell Rogers Sr. said. “I watched this every day. They were like, ‘Give dad a hug,” and they basically had to put his arms around me.”

Darrell Rogers Jr. (center) surrounded by his family — dad Darrell Sr., mom Michelle, and siblings Justin and Katrina — in their Matawan home. (Photo: Jerry Carino)

Rogers was home-schooled until February, when he returned to Matawan High on a half-day basis. He takes a handful of classes, lunch, and undergoes speech and occupational therapy there. And he returned to the Huskies’ basketball team this past winter. An implanted defibrillator prevents Rogers from playing contact sports — his diagnosis was hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, the same heart condition that killed Boston Celtics star Reggie Lewis at age 27 in 1993 and Loyola-Marymount All-American Hank Gathers at age 23 in 1990 — but he had a uniform and a seat on the bench.

“It was nice to be back,” Rogers said. “They were all happy to see me.”

Matawan coach John Giraldo said Rogers’ recovery inspired the team — and vice-versa.

“I’d see him during practice going off on the side taking shots, and I’d think to myself, ‘It’s amazing, how far he’s come,’” Giraldo said. “It’s a testament to him, and I think basketball had a lot to do with that.”

Rogers said his desire to get back on the court pushed him through the arduous rounds of rehabilitation. That process is ongoing. His short-term memory remains an issue.

“Each day when he wakes up I’ll say, ‘What’s today, Darrell?’ and he’ll tell me what day of the week it is,” his mom said. “He knows the day. Sometimes when they have days off from school he might get a little confused.”

The community raised $20,000 for the family through a GoFundMe campaign, and all the support is paying off. Darrell holds down a job now, bussing tables on Friday nights at MJ’s Restaurant. He attended his junior prom last week. With help from Matawan’s teachers — “they’ve been amazing,” Byron said — he’s catching up on his coursework and plans to graduate on time next spring.

“That’s my miracle child right there,” she said.

The miracle child was on the court last Thursday, shooting around as his dad rebounded. After a few minutes his mom came out and applied some light defense. She trapped him along the left wing, so Darrell launched a step-back 20-footer. It was a longshot.

He made it.

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