Texas teen dies on Christmas, leaves online message [video]
He tells his story with note cards.
Ben Breedlove died on Christmas, leaving behind a wordless, two-part YouTube video message about chronic illness, death and the afterlife viewed more than 450,000 times as of Wednesday.
In the first part of the video, posted Dec. 18, the teen starts out smiling, brown hair neatly parted, staring into the camera and holding up the first card, written in blue marker. The only sound is instrumental music playing in the background, Gary Jules' "Mad World."
"Hello, I'm Ben Breedlove," the card says.
"All my life I've had a heart condition."
Breedlove, 18, of Austin, Texas, suffered from hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a thickening of the heart muscle that worsened over time and eventually contributed to his death from a heart attack.
"As I grew older, I learned more that it is dangerous," he said in one of his note cards, followed by:
"It has scared me a lot, and I hate that feelling."
Before his death, he had started his own YouTube channel, Breedlovetv, where he sat behind a microphone, anchor-style, and talked about his best friend, his two younger siblings, his first date, his spirituality and his heart condition.
"I still get to do most of the stuff I want to do, like, wake boarding," he said in one video. "It's not a big problem."
But the message of his final two videos, titled "This is my story," was different.
In the beginning, Breedlove looks back on a childhood defined by illness and appears sad.
"I was never allowed to play all the sports that my friends did," one card said, "It kinda sucks that I missed out on that part of my life. I really just hoped that I could be the same as everyone else."
But he quickly veers into talk of death.
"The first time I cheated death," one note card said, "was when I was four."
He goes on to discuss near-death experiences, operations and hospitals, at one point tugging down the neck of his blue T-shirt to reveal a mean red scar on his chest where he had a pacemaker inserted in May 2009.
"I was scared to die, but am SO glad that I didn't," a card says.
In the second half of the video, Breedlove addresses his most recent illness.
"About two weeks ago, December 6, 2011," a card says, "Was the third time I cheated DEATH."
The rest of the cards tell the story, with Breedlove staring over them at the camera, his mouth a firm line.
"I was at at school, walking in the hall."
"I could tell I was going to faint, so I sat on a bench"
"I passed out."
"The next thing I know, I woke up with EMS around me."
"I couldn't talk or move, I could only watch what they were doing."
"They put the shock pads on my chest."
"I heard one of them say 'They are ready'."
"And the other guy said Go!'"
"I passed out again."
"My heart stopped and I wasn't breathing for 3 MINUTES."
"I really thought to myself. This is it. I'm dying."
In the cards that follow, Breedlove talks about how, when the heart stops, the brain can continue to function for some time before death.
He says that during his near-death experience, he had a vision of a white room, and a feeling of comfort familiar from his first brush with death at age 4. He was dressed in a white suit, alongside his favorite rap star, Kid Cudi. Breedlove looked in a mirror, and the cards tell the rest.
"The first thing I thought was Damn, we look GOOD!"
"I then looked at myself in the mirror. I was proud of MYSELF, of my entire life, everything I have done."
"It was the BEST feeling."
He eventually woke from the vision, revived by EMS, but not happy.
"I wish I NEVER woke up," a card says, and then:
"Do you believe in angels or God?"
Scores of viewers have been commenting on the videos, ruminating about how young and healthy Breedlove looked, about his positive attitude and the unfairness of death. Some even posted tributes and songs in memory of Breedlove. Kid Cudi wrote on his blog that after seeing the videos, he was in tears.
His family and friends apparently found the videos hours after Breedlove's death at home, according to the Austin American-Statesman.
Deanne Breedlove told the newspaper that watching the posthumous messages from her son brought her joy.
"It was a gift to us," she said, "And for him to be so confident and unafraid of death and to share it with other people was so touching."
One of Breedlove's friends said the videos were a departure from the Ben he knew, who hated the hospital and didn't like to talk about his illness.
"It was rough seeing him and what he was thinking about," Grant Hamill said.
-- Molly Hennessy-Fiske in Houston
Video: Ben Breedlove, 18, of Austin, Texas, made a two-part silent video using note cards and posted it on YouTube before his death on Christmas. Credit: YouTube.