He died at Fort Worth half-marathon finish line. A volunteer brought him back to life

·4 min read

It was Bryce Schilling’s first half-marathon.

He had trained for months, but with The Cowtown finish line about a dozen steps away, Schilling stopped. He fell to his knees.

“Are you OK?” a photographer yelled.

“No.”

Then he collapsed.

His heart stopped. Clinically speaking, Schilling, only 27, was dead.

John Sims, a 49-year-old member of The Cowtown’s volunteer medical team, immediately knew what he needed to do.

“The training kicks in and you’re just focused on saving a life,” said Sims, director of the SaferCare program at The University of North Texas Health Science Center at Fort Worth (HSC).

Sims, who is also a registered nurse, noticed Schilling wasn’t supporting his head and his lips were blue.

A crush of medical students converged as Sims started chest compressions. Then he noticed his patient didn’t have an open airway.

A medical student took over the chest compressions while Sims used a bag to move air in and out of his lungs until he could breathe on his own.

They kept it up until EMTs with the Fort Worth Fire Department were able to use a defibrillator to jump start his heart.

He was back.

“The next thing I remember was images of what at the time looked like my buddies trying to get me up. But they were actually the EMTs,” Schilling told the Star-Telegram.

An accountant in Dallas, Schilling had been planning to run in a half-marathon since 2019. He had trained for one scheduled in Dallas in 2020, but it was canceled when the pandemic hit.

About four months before the May 8 Cowtown, Schilling’s friends in Fort Worth urged him to sign up.

He said he felt normal before the race. No chest pain or discomfort. A normal morning.

Sims’ morning wasn’t routine.

His résumé includes work with trauma, surgical and neurosurgical patients. He’s performed CPR too many times to count in hospitals and emergency rooms.

He brought that knowledge and a group of medical students with him to The Cowtown that morning. As he went over plans with other medical professionals and a group of students from HSC, he was preparing himself for whatever might come.

Sims and the students observed runners headed to the finish line and asked those who looked like they might need assistance to give a thumbs up if they were fine.

That’s what he was doing when Schilling turned the corner and started his final push to the finish.

Schilling thought he’d simply passed out.

He didn’t remember — still doesn’t remember — anything between the moment he fell to his knees and when EMTs were helping him onto the gurney.

He tried to stop EMTs loading him into the ambulance.

“I didn’t want to go on the ambulance because I didn’t want to pay for it,” Schilling said. “Which just seems ridiculous now.”

Medics strapped him down and transported him to the hospital, where Schilling was scheduled for surgery and filled in on what happened, though he said he’s still not entirely sure what caused the cardiac arrest.

Sims took a moment to recompose himself and got back to his post, ready to step in again if needed.

Then the race was over. Sims looked at his phone and saw a text from his boss.

“Hey,” the text read, “it’s a great day to save a life.”

Schilling underwent surgery to have a defibrillator put in his chest to prevent something similar from happening

again, and Sims got an email updating him on his Cowtown patient.

Sims had never had the opportunity to talk to someone he saved. Most of the time, he doesn’t even know their names. This was different.

“This isn’t just a Cowtown runner,” Sims said. “It’s Bryce Schilling, 27 years old, his girlfriend was waiting to go to breakfast with him afterward. Then I heard from him and his parents and their gratitude.”

Three days after the race they spoke on the phone. Schilling said he was uncharacteristically emotional. The man had saved his life.

“I’m standing here and I’m here today because of him,” Schilling said. “I can’t thank him enough for everything he did.”

They met in person June 5.

“To see the person who helped me out and saved me, it was pretty unique. Pretty amazing,” he said.

It was emotional for Sims, too.

“In addition to Bryce being the first person I was able to talk to after CPR, my son died of suicide in 2017 and he would have been 27 this year if he hadn’t,” Sims said.

He could see some of his son in Schilling and had been able to do something to save his life. It brought a sort of relief.

Sims said the incident highlights the importance of knowing CPR.

Sims said proper CPR training allows anybody to step in and provide aid if needed, at least until a defibrillator can be used.

Schilling said he’ll be learning CPR soon, and he’s not given up on running marathons in the future.