A winning attitude
Matt Nader became a volunteer board member with Championship Hearts Foundation, a local nonprofit, six years ago. A twenty-something medical device senior sales rep, Matt is at least a generation younger than the rest of the board, which includes accomplished cardiologists and corporate executives. But in some ways, he’s got more experience with the organization’s mission than anyone else.
Founded in 2000, Championship Hearts Foundation provides free heart screenings for student athletes in Central Texas to prevent sudden cardiac death, the leading cause of death in young athletes.
On September 15, 2006, Matt Nader’s heart went into cardiac arrest on the football field. A star offensive lineman at Westlake High School, Nader was looking forward to taking his spot with Coach Mack Brown’s winning Longhorns. Nader survived thanks to the quick efforts of Westlake parents who happened to be doctors—including his own parents.
“My dad was giving me CPR and my mom was doing rescue breathing,” Matt explains. Fortunately, a cardiologist with a son on the team had an automated external defibrillator (AED) which was used to shock Matt’s heart back into rhythm, saving his life.
Standing 6’7” with dark good looks and a winner’s smile, Matt grew up believing he was made to play football. An athlete in peak physical condition, Matt had no prior signs of heart problems. But when he discovered he had a rare heart abnormality, he realized he was made to do something bigger—educate, advocate and save lives.
Months after his near-death experience, Matt’s personal testimony at the state legislature helped make Texas the first state to require AEDs on all high school campuses. His dramatic story was featured on CNN and in Sports Illustrated and his advocacy has put him in front of dozens of audiences.
While Coach Brown honored his commitment to the athlete and welcomed him to the Longhorn coaching staff, Matt initially struggled to find a new path. After earning his degree in Communications, Matt wasn’t certain about a career until the maker of the device implanted in his chest, designed to shock his heart into rhythm if it fails again, offered him a job. Now he leads a team that sells pacemakers and implantable cardioverter defibrillators and recently earned his MBA. Matt enjoys working closely with cardiologists, actually programming the devices in the operating room.
“I have a great career,” Matt says with a wide smile. “I love my life. It’s hard for me to say I’d want to change anything. I get to pursue my passion that came about from this horrible event. Now I get to tell people what it’s like to live with the device.” Matt pats his heart and says he can do pretty much anything and lives a normal healthy life.
Matt is passionate about the role sports played in his journey, providing skills he draws on at work daily, such as teamwork, commitment and being coachable. But he knows that as few as one percent of high school football players make it to the college level and less than one percent of those end up playing professionally. Every player is one injury away from having to quit.
“Some student players don’t want to get their heart screened because they’re afraid they’ll be told they can’t play,” Matt acknowledges. “That’s actually quite rare. Even so, the risk isn’t worth it.”
“The most important thing is living a healthy, happy and productive life—whatever that means to you,” says Matt. “I’m devoted to eliminating cardiac arrest in young athletes.”
In his role as a board member with Championship Hearts Foundation, Matt helps educates coaches, parents and athletes about the ease and importance of heart screening. One in 250 high school students has a serious cardiac condition which can cause sudden death—but the risk of sudden cardiac death is much greater in athletes due to their strenuous physical exertion.
Championship Hearts Foundation travels around Central Texas providing free screenings that include a 12-lead electrocardiogram (ECG) and a limited echocardiogram (ECHO), tests not included in standards sports physical examinations. The organization’s large-scale heart screening events are usually set up in high school gyms and cafeterias, small medical clinics and hospitals. Booster clubs, local businesses, and hospitals provide support.
Thanks to the generosity of volunteer doctors and technicians, hospital and medical partners, and financial donors, the screenings, which would normally cost about $700 in a cardiologist’s office, are free. Heart screenings are available for athletes, as well as members of the marching band, cheer or drill teams, ages 14 to 18 years old.
If an abnormality is found, the volunteer cardiologist that interpreted the tests will recommend a full evaluation by a pediatric cardiologist. Championship Hearts Foundation provides information and assistance to guide parents through the process to receive a full evaluation.
More than a decade after that life-altering football game, Matt’s work uniform is hospital scrubs, sneakers and cell phone, his stride is confident, and his credo is: “Love and family are all that really matters.” Matt’s personal experience and winning attitude help Championship Hearts Foundation save young lives.
In 2020, Matt was honored with the HERO Award during Championship Hearts Foundation's annual Heartbeats & Heroes gala. Here's the tribute video: