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Meet AHA Advocate Mike Papale

AHA Advocate-Survivor Starts Heart Non-Profit.

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My name is Mike Papale and I am a sudden cardiac arrest survivor. I went into sudden cardiac arrest when I was 17 years old on August 24, 2006. I was a basketball player training at an intense level with aspirations to play in college. I had no signs or symptoms that something could be wrong with my heart.

The morning of my cardiac arrest my brother and I worked out with one of our close friends at a local school. The workout was completely normal; nothing was out of the ordinary. We left the workout and went over to the Wallingford Parks and Recreation Center where my father was directing his annual basketball camp. My brother and I served as counselors at the camp. I walked in at about 8:00 a.m., I said hi to my dad, I changed my shirt, and I ordered my lunch. That is the last thing I remember from that day.

Two hours later at 10:30 I was sitting on the bleachers with my best friend sitting next to me. I had a bunch of kids surrounding me. I slumped over onto the floor and went into cardiac arrest. No one in the gym knew what to do. No one started CPR. There was no AED on site. These two factors made my chances to survive very slim.

Luckily someone did call 9-1-1. In the building next door working his full-time job, there was a volunteer EMT. When the 9-1-1 call came through, he saw it on his pager, recognized the address, and came over to the scene where he saw me on the ground, turning blue, surrounded by my dad, my 13-year old brother, and my best friend. He immediately started performing CPR, saving my life, saving my brain, and sustaining me until an ambulance arrived with an AED.

I was rushed to the hospital and the first night, doctors told my parents something was wrong with my heart. They couldn’t believe it. They didn’t understand. How could their healthy, athletic, 17-year-old son that didn’t drink, didn’t smoke, and didn’t do drugs have something wrong with their heart. We didn’t understand at the time that heart disease affects everyone. It affects older people, younger people, people that are in great shape, people that aren’t in great shape, males, and females.

I was soon diagnosed with Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy and told my basketball career was over. I was also told that, based on my circumstances that day, my chances to survive were one in a million. My life was going to chance significantly.

When I got home from the hospital after two weeks, we first visited the man and the EMTs that helped save my life. The next thing we did was my mom set up an appointment at the American Heart Association. As a 17-year-old, I didn’t really understand why we needed to do this. My mom then told me something I would never forget. She told me, “I don’t think you understand the impact you can have on others. I don’t think you understand, that by telling your story, you can help save lives.” This statement changed my life forever. I agreed to the meeting and signed up as a volunteer and spokesperson for the American Heart Association.

We went around and shared our story. We helped lobby for a law to get passed mandating all public schools in the state of Connecticut be equipped with an AED. We went to Washington D.C. to participate in the American Heart Association Lobby Day. We participate in the annual heart walks. It was an amazing feeling sharing our story and trying to help save lives.

As I have continued to work with the American Heart Association I have been lucky enough to start my own non-profit foundation called In A Heartbeat with the mission to prevent death from sudden cardiac arrest and Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy. We donate AED’s, provide training, and raise money for Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy research. Our mission aligns directly with American Heart Association: saving lives.

The work American Heart Association does is extremely important for many reasons. Heart disease is still the leading cause of death across the United States. We need to continue to raise awareness about heart disease so families understand that it affects everyone, not just the old and not just the non-active. We need to raise awareness about CPR, how to use an AED, and how to react in emergency situation. The hope is that as we continue to work, as we continue to research, and as we continue to raise awareness, more lives will be saved.

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