Ben Breedlove, an 18-year-old high school senior in Austin, Texas, died on Christmas Day of a heart condition called hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, something he'd had all of his life. But he left behind two wordless videos on his YouTube channel, in which he used a series of note cards with handwritten messages to tell his life story, including the three times he "cheated death." His family discovered the videos in the hours after his death, reports NBC's Austin, Texas, affiliate station, KXAN.
"The first time I cheated death was when I was 4," Ben silently says with his notecards. During the videos, the haunting, minimalist cover of the 1980s hit "Mad World," composed by Michael Andrews and Gary Jules for the 2001 film "Donnie Darko," plays. "I had a life-threatening siezure (sic). Scary right? I don't remember too much from that day. Except one thing that I will never forget."
He says he remembers being rushed down the hallway in a wheelchair, with nurses and his mother beside him, when he looked up -- and saw a blindingly bright light. He pointed it out to his mother, who didn't see anything there.
Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy causes the patient's heart muscles to thicken, making it harder for blood to leave the heart, which means the heart must work harder to pump enough blood. It's a condition that can affect all ages, but it's most severe in younger patients -- like Ben.
Later in the videos, Ben tells us about a second near-death experience he had this summer: He went into cardiac arrest while having a routine tonsil surgery. "It was a miracle they brought me back," says the notecard. As he takes it down, Ben flashes an adorable grin. The next card read, "I was scared to die, but am SO glad I didn't." (Cue a second adorable smile.) "After this I tried so hard to just forget about it and not worry."
Those smiles caught the eye of Ben's dad, Shawn Breedlove. He tells KXAN, "One of the things I noticed about that video is he was very confident in what he was sharing that day. And he wasn't sad when he made that video.
"I spoke to a friend who was in the room with him when he made that video and he was just enjoying what he was doing but it was obviously a very serious subject matter for him to discuss and for him to share with other people."
Earlier this month, Ben "cheated death" a third time -- he passed out at school. He regained consciousness, though he couldn't move or speak, to find himself surrounded by paramedics.
"I heard them say, 'he's not breathing, his heart is stopped & he has no pulse."
"I really thought to myself, this is it. I'm dying."
This time, he had a detailed dream, or vision: He was in a white room that had no walls. "I was wearing a really nice suit, and so was my fav rapper, Kid Cudi." (Another adorable grin.) "Why he was the only one there with me, I'm still trying to figure out." Ben's favorite Kid Cudi song, "Mr. Rager," started to play. The song contains the lyrics, "When will the fantasy end? When will the heaven begin?" At those words, the vision of Kid Cudi told Ben, "Go now."
Ben woke up, but the last four notecards in the video say:
"I didn't want to leave that place."
"I wish I NEVER woke up."
"Do you believe in angels or God?"
Kid Cudi himself heard of his role in Ben's dream, and responded to the teenager's videos on his Tumblr.
Iam so sad about Ben Breedlove. I watched the video he left for the world to see, and him seeing me in detail, in his vision really warmed my heart. I broke down, Iam to tears because I hate how life is so unfair. This has really touched my heart in a way I cant describe, this is why I do what I do. Why I write my life, and why I love you all so much. Life is really @!$%#ed up sometimes, but I know Ben is at Peace, and I hope he gets a chance to sit and talk with my Dad. We love you Ben. Forever. Thank you for loving me. To Ben’s family, you raised a real hero, he’s definately mine. You have my love.
Other viewers have posted on Ben's YouTube channel messages for Ben and the Breedlove family:
"You will be missed dearly. You are a YouTuber who will never die in our memories."
"nothing but love and good wishes sending to your family and friends. RIP ben. you made a difference in this world!"
His mother, Deanne Breedlove, says her son died after the family opened their Christmas presents.
"I just think Ben opened doors for a lot of people to think about something that maybe they've never thought about before," Deanne Breedlove told KXAN. "And that to me is a wonderful gift."
Watch Part 1 of Ben Breedlove's video message, which he called, "This is my story."