Advocate Spotlight: Matthew Zubiller

It was a bright and sunny morning at my children’s elementary school here in San Diego, California. As was the custom, many parents, myself included, were rushing to drop off their kids, give them a hug and a kiss, and wish them a great day. I revel in embarrassing my son and daughter, as any good dad would, and yelled to them as they entered the gate “Make good choices!”. They acted as if they didn’t know who I was and proceeded on their way, but I know that they knew what that meant.

As I was walking back to my car, most of the parking lot had cleared out. Ben, an older gentleman, chronic smoker, and grandfather to my daughter’s friend, was ambling back to his grey pickup and began to stumble. Within a few short seconds, he collapsed. I ran over and caught him as he fell. He looked pale and grey, and was unresponsive to my questions. His breathing was erratic and shallow.

hero_image_alt_text===Matthew Zubiller
thumbnail_alt_text===Matthew Zubiller

As I glanced back to the school, Miss Keisha, our school nurse just happened to be walking into the office - I yelled to her that we needed her help. She ran over and clearly knew that our friend was in distress. She radioed the receptionist to call 911, assessed the situation, and immediately began CPR. I watched in awe as this angel, trained in saving lives, deftly cared for him. I held his hand not knowing if and when would be the next time he would see his granddaughter.

50 years ago, my father found himself in a similar situation. His father, my grandfather, had not felt well, and was going to take a nap after lunch. He was a habitual smoker, had a notoriously poor diet, and hadn’t slept well since before his days in the military serving our country with valor. My grandmother had called for help as she found my grandfather non-responsive on the bed. My dad, 26 at the time, rushed in and began CPR. As an Eagle Scout, he learned how to save lives, and now he was face to face with saving his dad’s. He never stopped, waiting for an ambulance to arrive which seemed like an eternity. It was too late, he couldn’t save him. While I’ve heard many stories about what an amazing man he was, I never got the chance to meet my grandfather.

As Miss Keisha continued to support our friend, Ben, who remained in distress, the firetruck and ambulance arrived. More angels, had now come to his rescue. I thought as I stepped back, how I knew he was in the right hands. I also thought about the importance of the work I do as a Board Member of the American Heart Association here in San Diego.

I thought about how precious and finite the moments are that we have with our loved ones, and the role that the AHA plays in ensuring we have them. From support of research, training, and advocacy of heart and stroke awareness, to community engagement and programs delivered to create knowledge of our health and how it impacts us and the lives of our families, the mission of the AHA touches me deeply - to be a relentless force for a world of longer healthier lives.

As a parent and Board Member, the work we do is relentless and we, as a team, are a force to be reckoned with. Most recently, our advocacy has supported the Stop Adolescent Addiction to Flavored E-Cigarettes (SAAFE) Act ordinance that will ensure that flavored tobacco sales in San Diego, targeted at our most vulnerable and precious - our children - will not be the gateway that leads them to a lifetime of chronic illness and nicotine addiction. During the campaign, I shared why this campaign was so important by calling and meeting with key City Councilmembers and acting as a spokesperson on behalf of the San Diego Board of Directors. After months of advocacy, Mayor Gloria signed the SAAFE Act into law On Thursday, June 2nd. The SAAFE Act ordinance restricts the sale of flavored tobacco products including menthol products. This lifesaving ordinance will go into effect January 1, 2023. We’ve also advocated for greater understanding and healthier living with access to nutritious foods in our communities. We want our community members - from kids to grandparents and all ages in between to make good choices.

For Ben, his life was saved by those angels who acted quickly, were effectively trained, and knew exactly how to support him. He is now able to enjoy a longer and healthier life with his family, and for his granddaughter, she will be able hear many stories from him directly of what good choices she can make to do the same.

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