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Interviews

Ryan Campbell reflects on 'humbling' recovery: 'It does put your life in perspective'

Two months on from being in an induced coma, the former Australia batter is focused on "relaxing with the family"

Netherlands head coach Ryan Campbell during a training session, Dublin, September 16, 2019

Ryan Campbell - "I make sure that definitely my wife and kids are getting a lot more hugs and kisses at the moment"  •  Sportsfile via Getty Images

Easter weekend is known to Christians as the holiest week on the calendar, a time when they celebrate the salvation of Jesus rising from the dead. So there's a bit of symbolism in the fact that a not too dissimilar miracle unfolded over that holiday weekend this past April with Netherlands coach Ryan Campbell while on a day out with his family in the Cheshire countryside in England.
"I'm pretty fit and healthy and active and I didn't feel anything was going wrong," Campbell told ESPNcricinfo in a recent interview. "Then all of a sudden we were in a playground and for some reason I felt tired and decided to lay down. Then I woke up seven days later."
It's been more than two months since that weekend in Cheshire, when Campbell was admitted to hospital and put in an induced coma. But the 50-year-old Dutch head coach is almost back to his usual routine. One of the few things he can't do just yet though is get on an airplane, which means he'll be watching his players from afar as they compete in Bulawayo this week in the ICC Men's T20 World Cup Qualifier. However, Campbell is soaking up the simple pleasures in life after his near-death experience.
"To just sit outside, relax and have a cold beer and just spend some time with my wife and family, that's the priority at the moment," Campbell said. "That's what I'm going to try and enjoy doing. I'll get back to work at some point in the not too distant future, but right now it's just about relaxing and spending time with the family.
"The most important thing is my wife and two kids and they'll always come first, not that they didn't come first anyway, but I make sure that definitely they're getting a lot more hugs and kisses at the moment, which is kind of freaking my kids out. But they definitely come first. It does put your life in perspective. I think we're all guilty of probably work comes first and we put everything else on the backburner but something like this makes you get your priorities right."
So what exactly happened on April 16 in Cheshire? Campbell says his doctors still haven't quite figured it out. But it wasn't a heart attack as was initially reported in many places, though he did go into cardiac arrest after his heart stopped beating.
"I'm probably like 80% of the world where I didn't know the difference between a heart attack and cardiac arrest," Campbell said. "I think if anyone has heart trouble, they just say, 'It's a heart attack.' But what they said very clearly was, 'No, it wasn't a heart attack.' Because that's generally caused by blocked arteries and that can cause major damage with a heart attack. But that wasn't the case for me.
"The cardiac arrest was sort of like the wiring got mixed up for a little bit there and pumped a bit out of sync, but my recovery has been so quick and my heart is back to 100% that my cardiologist said, 'We're not 100% sure what happened. We've got a few ideas but it should never happen again.' But at the start, everyone was saying heart attack, which is not the case and that's a good thing."
But the Dutch coach is able to enjoy life among the living again back home in Haarlem thanks to the quick-thinking Beci Bassett. She was enjoying her own family day out with her young daughter at BeWILDerwood on that Saturday when she stopped everything to redefine what it means to be a Good Samaritan by helping to save Campbell's life in his moment of need.
"I think she's probably mid 40s, wife, mother of a beautiful three-and-a-half-year-old daughter who doesn't like me very much because actually when I lied down, it was on her foot. So she thinks I'm a bit creepy, which I don't blame her. But just a wonderful lady. There's so many things that had gone into it for the stars to align for that day. She happened to change jobs. She wanted a change and that was a month or so before. Because of the change of job, she had to do a first aid course and with this first aid course, she obviously learned CPR.
"That was so lucky that she was sitting there and basically a foot away from me. She just showed so much courage, and the responsibility to take charge is why I'm here. Basically, I was dead. And she brought me back. They're the cold hard facts of life. Without that lady being so proactive and brave, I wouldn't be here. I was lucky enough to meet her. My wife and I had lunch with her. She's just a wonderful person and I'll always be indebted to her."
Bassett's heroic actions kept Campbell going until park staff at BeWILDerwood were able to coordinate further assistance. He was taken 25 miles away to Royal Stoke University Hospital where he was in a coma for a week. He underwent a series of procedures during that time, including surgery to install a defibrillator into his chest.
"That's just totally an insurance package," Campbell said. "Like my cardiologist said, my heart is going so well that he didn't think that I needed it. But to save having any worry ever again, he put it in and now I have this insurance policy that if anything ever happened, I've got a backup plan that'll take over and give me a good old kick."
If Campbell doesn't remember much about what happened during that time frame, he got a healthy reminder of how much everyone else in his life has remembered the episode when he finally woke up. Besides his wife Leontina's constant presence, there was also Simon Millington, the former chairman of Hong Kong Cricket and Campbell's good friend from his days working as the head coach at Kowloon Cricket Club, who had flown out from Las Vegas to England at a moment's notice to be there for Campbell's family throughout the ordeal.
"He just dropped everything basically to fly out from Nevada and give Leontina help," Campbell said. "He was just amazing for her and obviously I eventually woke up and him being there just kind of made it feel like everything was okay.
"Simon and I met in Hong Kong. We just formed a great friendship and have been great friends with his whole family. He's got two sons that I'm quite close with as well. So we were inseparable in Hong Kong and then his business took him to Nevada and my job took me to the Netherlands. We stay in touch and we caught up in London a few times. We go to the cricket together at Lord's. He's just one of those people you want in your life to be honest."
If Millington's transatlantic journey to be there for Campbell wasn't enough of a signal to the seriousness of his situation, the deluge of text messages Campbell has had to sift through since waking up has only reinforced the level of concern for him. It has extended well beyond the cricket community and is something that Campbell says he is still trying to process.
"Totally humbling is probably the word that I'd use," Campbell said. "I had so many messages from so many people from so many places around the world. From a cricket fan, to AFL players, to obviously cricketers from around the world, from opposition players, from one of my mates who is a Hong Kong jockey. There's been so much outpouring of love thrown my way. It's so humbling and I can't thank them enough. You hope to be a good person and have mates and stuff, but if something like this happens and you see the outpouring of emotion I guess from a lot of people, it's been so humbling and I guess all I can say is thank you to everyone."
Campbell's miraculous adventure wasn't totally over upon leaving the hospital though. Because he was not allowed to fly or drive, there was still the matter of figuring out how to get from England back home to the Netherlands. Upon being released from the hospital in Stoke, Campbell's family had to arrange transportation to make the 130-mile journey northeast to Hull. From there, they took an 11-hour overnight ferry to Rotterdam before a friend came to pick them up in his taxi and drive them the final hour back home to Haarlem.
"He had read the articles in the Dutch papers and was looking at me strange thinking, 'Mate, you can't be sick.' I'm like, 'Yep, I don't know mate.' So it's a bit like that at the moment. People just sort of say, 'You can't be. It's not right.' It just goes to show it doesn't discriminate. It can be a 50-year-old healthy person and it can be a 55-year-old, overweight and smokes a lot. It doesn't seem to discriminate."
Within weeks, Campbell said he was back to riding his bike around Haarlem and is doing his best to resume his active lifestyle. However, he has had to take a step back from head coaching duties, with Ryan Cook being appointed to oversee the Dutch squad in the interim, including during the T20 World Cup Qualifier in Zimbabwe. Always a fun personality around a cricket field, Campbell has managed to keep a sense of humor about everything that happened.
"When I was out for seven days, I didn't see any white lights or pearly gates, so I'll just stick to my beliefs at the moment," Campbell said. "At the end of the day, I feel great now and I'm looking forward to getting on."

Peter Della Penna is ESPNcricinfo's USA correspondent @PeterDellaPenna