Henrico man: ‘God got me through’
Dr. Teresa Stadler Camden was waiting for her husband to cross the finish line at the Patriot’s Sprint triathlon at Jamestown Beach Event Park on Sept. 10 when she heard the call: “Medic to the finish line.”
Camden, a sports medicine physician, responded, spotting an unresponsive man lying 20 meters from the finish line. She grabbed the man by the ankles and raised his legs to get blood flowing to his brain, her view of the victim obscured by the other people working on him. She glanced over her shoulder to see if she could spot her husband finishing his race.
Above the din of the race and the ambulance, she heard someone ask whose life they were trying to save: “What’s this guy’s name?”
“Christopher Camden,” came the reply.
Just briefly, she thought someone had called her husband’s name as he crossed the finish line. Then, reality set in.
“I started screaming for him to wake up and screaming for the medical team to do their work and screaming for the good Lord to save him,” Camden recalled Friday. Her voice choked with emotion as she recalled the paddles being applied to her husband’s chest to shock his heart back into action.
As Dr. James McCorry fought to save her 46-yearold husband’s life, she said, “I realized that I was frantic and Dr. McCorry wasn’t. I decided I’m going to play wife right now and let him play doctor.”
“He was out a full eight minutes — no heartbeat; no breathing,” she said. After being taken to hospitals in Williamsburg and Newport News, he landed at VCU Medical Center, where he underwent a double bypass Tuesday.
Two days later, Christopher Camden — an Army veteran of the Persian Gulf War who is now a teacher’s aide at Holman Middle School in Henrico County — took a stroll outside the intensive care unit, still connected to tubes.
On Friday, he sat in his hospital room, recalling what little he could about how he landed there.
He was no stranger to the sort of sprint triathlon he participated last Sunday — a 750-meter swim in the James River, a 20-kilometer bike ride along state Route 5, and a flat 5-kilometer (3-mile) run to the finish. It represented no extraordinary challenge to an individual who had completed marathons and half-marathons. But Christopher Camden noticed something alarming at the 1-mile marker of the run.
“That’s when I felt a deep heartburn sensation, if you would, right in the middle of my chest,” he recalled.
He slowed his pace, trying to walk off the pain, and began to run again. The sensation returned. Heading into the homestretch, he was determined to reach the finish line a short distance away. “I was in pain to the point I simply passed out and collapsed.
... That’s all I remember.”
He was wearing two bracelets on his right wrist. One said “God Strong” and Ephesians 6:11-12, which reads in part, “Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.”
“So God got me through all this,” he said.
His wife wonders how her husband had run 7-minute miles with two arteries blocked more than 90 percent. His conditioning blinded her to the possibility that he was the fallen runner she was helping to treat.
“I never would imagine in 5,000 years that it was him because I was literally holding his feet up while I was looking the other way.”
In hindsight, Christopher Camden says his heart problem was a genetic time bomb; his father underwent a quintuple bypass at age 48.
This is not the first week the couple’s devotion to fitness resulted in trauma.
Five years ago, before they were married, Teresa was hit by a motorist as she rode her bike, a crash that broke 14 bones and injured her spine, leg and arm. She spent a chunk of their engagement in a wheelchair.
“To this day, I can’t feel certain parts of my leg and my foot,” she said. But she has recovered well enough to have participated in the Patriot’s International Triathlon — a 1,500-meter swim, a 40K bike ride and a 10K run — the day before her husband’s race.
The western Henrico couple have been married for four years. Teresa Camden has three children — 10-year-old daughter Alexa and two teenage sons, Reece and Brennan — from a previous marriage.
As they pulled into the bay of a Williamsburg hospital last Sunday, her husband came around. “His first words were, ‘Did I finish the race?’ ” she said.
His wife cringes to think what might have happened if Camden had collapsed a quarter-mile earlier, or suffered his attack during his swim in the James.
“I just really believe that the Lord just wasn’t taking him yet, and it was meant for him to collapse and die right in front of that ambulance so we can pull this miracle off to bring other people to faith,” she said.
“And Alexa’s already decided when he gets out of here, we’re going to drive out to that spot in Jamestown, and together — as a family — walk those last 20 meters.”