Ben Brost tried to be incognito.
The sixth-grade teacher at Enterprise Middle School in West Richland has been on leave since mid-November, when he suffered a scary medical incident while traveling home from a basketball retreat near Yakima.
But Brost is a tall, standout guy. And he’s beloved at the school.
So when he dropped by the other day to catch up with staff, it didn’t take long for students to spot him.
Soon, he was surrounded — fielding hugs and high-fives from excited kids.
“Hello! Hello!” he said. “See you guys in a couple weeks.”
Brost will return to the classroom on Jan. 23, but he’ll actually be back at Enterprise informally before that.
He and his wife, Shanna, will be at Community Strong: Connecting Hearts & Saving Lives on Wednesday.
I’m extremely lucky. I was really lucky to be with who I was with at the time.
Ben Brost, Enterprise Middle School teacher
The special event is designed to raise awareness about the need for CPR training, while also celebrating the way Enterprise came together to help the Brosts after Ben’s health scare.
It runs from 5 to 7 p.m. at the school and includes a lasagna dinner and a silent auction to benefit the American Red Cross.
Brost, 40, said he’s excited to show his thanks to the Enterprise community and the quick-thinking fellow educators who saved his life last fall.
“I’m extremely lucky,” he said. “I was really lucky to be with who I was with at the time.”
Along with his teaching duties at Enterprise, Brost is assistant coach of Hanford High’s varsity girls basketball team.
The players and coaches headed to Ghormley Meadow near Yakima for a weekend retreat in mid-November.
When the retreat wrapped up, Brost caught a ride home with head coach Evan Woodward and Woodward’s wife, Dyan.
They were chatting in the car when a natural lull in the conversation hit. Then Brost leaned over toward the window.
He was sitting in the passenger seat, with Evan Woodward driving and Dyan Woodward in the back. It had been a long weekend, and Evan thought Brost might be preparing to take a nap.
It was soon clear that wasn’t the case. Brost was in trouble.
As quickly as I could, I pulled off the road. ... We thought it was maybe a seizure at first. He wasn’t responding. Things got worse.
Evan Woodward, Hanford basketball coach
“As quickly as I could, I pulled off the road,” Evan Woodward said. Dyan called 911 and Evan rushed around the car to Brost’s side.
“We thought it was maybe a seizure at first,” Evan said. “He wasn’t responding. Things got worse,” and Evan started CPR.
Soon, first responders arrived. They rushed Brost to the hospital, with the Woodwards close behind.
It turned out Brost had experienced cardiac arrest, or the sudden loss of heart function.
He’d been diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder, Sarcoidosis, a few months before. “It was affecting primarily his lungs. There was the potential for it to affect other organs, but he’d been recovering and doing well with the medication they’d put him on. Then this was just sudden,” Shanna Brost said.
Brost spent about a week in the hospital before he was cleared to go home. Doctors put in a pacemaker/defibrillator.
The teacher is doing well now, looking healthy and happy to be on the brink of returning to school.
They were right at the hospital when it happened. And the next day, and the next day.
Shanna Brost, on her husband’s co-workers
Brost has taught at Enterprise for years. It’s a tight-knit community, and in the past year school officials have focused on making it even closer by strengthening connections and emphasizing character and kindness.
Enterprise is using the CharacterStrong program, which is in about 250 schools around the country.
“‘What will we do for others today?’ is our school-wide theme,” said Hans Appel, a school counselor. “That’s what we’ve been talking about at Enterprise all year.”
After Brost’s cardiac arrest, his Enterprise colleagues rallied. “They were right at the hospital when it happened. And the next day, and the next day,” Shanna said. “They just kept coming.”
The love and support has been overwhelming, Shanna said.
And the Woodwards? Shanna could hardly find words to describe how she feels about them.
“What do you say to the people who saved your husband’s life?” Shanna said, wiping away tears. “They’ve always been incredibly generous and giving and loving. This is the cherry on top.”
The Woodwards will be at the Community Strong event. So will John Norlin and Houston Kraft, CharacterStrong co-founders.
Norlin said he isn’t surprised the school community has gone above and beyond for the Brosts. “I’ve been really proud of Enterprise” for how it’s embraced the program, he said.
Evan Woodward said he’s glad to see Brost doing so well. He was modest about the part he and his wife played in helping out, saying they did what they could and God deserves all credit.
“When I talk to Ben and I see him, I’m just really grateful. It’s just a blessing to have him around,” Woodward said. “It really put a lot of things in perspective. You deal with your own challenges with your athletes, your students, your family. (But after something like this), you know what’s really important in life.”
Brost already has started helping with the basketball team again.
And he looks forward to returning to Enterprise — to staff who rallied around him, to students who are so happy to see him they swarm with high-fives and hugs.
“I love it here,” he said. “I wouldn’t want to work anywhere else.”