Mike was a normal and healthy 17 year old kid in high school. He grew up in a basketball family and his dream was to play basketball in college. Throughout high school, Mike had worked really hard on his game, and scouts were starting to take notice. Everything seemed to be heading in the right direction until the morning of Thursday, August 24, 2006.
Mike describes that morning as, “just like any other.” He completed a pretty tough basketball workout in the morning, and afterwards went over to help out at his dad’s basketball camp, where he was a coach. When he got to the camp, he went to sit on the bench, and that’s the last thing he remembers from the next three days of his life. That’s because, after he sat down, out of nowhere, Mike slumped over and went into Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SCA)…
Mike was unconscious for the next three days and is only able to tell this story based on the recounts of witnesses that were at the scene. He’s been told that after he slumped over, no one in the gym knew what was going on. His brother, his dad, and friends stood there watching, and someone called 911 and told them that Mike had just broken his bone. Fortunately, a second person called 911 and said a 17-year-old was on the floor and unresponsive. There was no automated external defibrillator on site.
Once that second call went out, a local off-duty first responder was paged, and luckily, he was in the adjacent building to the one where Mike had collapsed. He immediately left what he was doing and ran over to where Mike was. By the time he got to the scene, Mike was turning blue and taking his last few agonal breaths. The first responder took control of the scene, performed CPR perfectly, and saved Mike’s life – and most likely his brain from experiencing permanent damage. When the paramedics arrived, they used an AED to restart Mike’s heart, and put his heart back into a normal rhythm.
Mike put into perspective how surreal the situation really was when he explained to me that, “Earlier that morning I was battling on the basketball court, and just a couple of hours later, I was battling for my life.”
Even though the paramedics revived Mike at the scene of his cardiac arrest, he wasn’t out of the woods yet, as he went through a number of setbacks in the hospital and once he was discharged. The diagnosis that doctors ultimately gave him was that he had Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy – which is mostly simply put, a thickness of the septum and apex of his heart. As a result of the diagnosis, doctors implanted an ICD (an implantable defibrillator) into Mike, which would shock him back to life in case he experienced another cardiac arrest in his life. Doctors told him that based on the circumstances of his cardiac arrest (mostly notably, the time it took to start CPR on him and the time it took for him to receive a defibrillation shock from an AED), his chances of survival were, “one in a million”.
I had the good fortune of interviewing Mike, where I took some time to ask him a number of questions on the topic of SCA prevention, and some of the challenges that he sees in his efforts to play a role in increasing survival rates from SCA.
Mike, thank you very much for taking the time to speak with me today!
Of course, glad to do it!
So before you went into cardiac arrest, had you ever previously heard of SCA?
I had no prior knowledge of cardiac arrest. I had no idea what it was, I had no idea it could affect someone that was 17 years old and completely healthy… I had no idea what to do if I encountered someone in cardiac arrest… no idea how to perform CPR or use an AED. I guess the best word to describe myself and my whole family on the issue of cardiac arrest is “ignorant”…
I think that you and your family were probably in the majority there, and to no fault of your own… Do you know if there were AEDs at your school, local community center, the basketball gyms you played in, etc… before your community heard that you went into cardiac arrest?
I honestly don’t know if any of those facilities had them prior to me experiencing cardiac arrest. I’m pretty sure they did not. I know they all have them now because my family and I went and talked to the Board of Education for my community and other community leaders. We explained my story and everyone in town was pretty shocked. So they pretty much immediately installed AEDs in all those types of locations.
Now that you are very educated on the topics of CPR and AEDs, how would you explain to someone the importance of knowing how to perform CPR and using an AED?
I think I defied statistics given how long it was until I started receiving CPR, and my doctors would certainly tell you that as well. The biggest thing is that when someone collapses, if there’s a witness, they have to try doing something. I know from talking with EMT’s (Emergency Medical Technicians), that when they arrive on a scene of a cardiac arrest and see that CPR hasn’t been started, they know that person’s chances of survival aren’t as strong as they could be. I think as a society, CPR is a skill that everyone should learn early on in life, and continue to learn as they get older. The truth of the matter is that the statistics for SCA are scary. The fact that 70% of SCA’s occur in the home means that chances are you’re going to have to perform CPR on a family member, a friend, a co-worker, etc… And it’s not that we don’t have the medical knowledge on what to do for a person in cardiac arrest… we know very well that it takes immediate CPR and a defibrillation shock as soon as possible. Now we just need to educate people so that they feel confident to take action.
And so now you’ve started a non-profit so that you can be a part of that education effort. Tell everyone more about how your organization is empowering people to save lives..
Absolutely. So, I founded In A Heartbeat at the end of 2015, and our mission is to prevent death from SCA and Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy, which is the condition I have. We’re primarily doing this by donating AEDs to businesses, schools, organizations, and families that need an AED, but don’t have the means to afford one. And while AEDs are becoming more well known and prevalent, there are definitely still issues.
Ok, so let’s pause there for a second. Can you elaborate on what you mean by issues?
Well one of the issues is education… we don’t want to donate an AED and just walk out and the person or organization with the AED has no idea how to use it, where to place it, etc… So we make sure that we help with training, setting up emergency action plans so that everyone knows what to do in case the AED needs to be used.
Got it, and even though you’re donating these devices to people, do you experience resistance from people to accept the donation?
Yeah, we definitely experience some resistance. And honestly the biggest reason is because people don’t want to deal with the maintenance (burden and cost), and as a result they’re afraid of the liability that comes from ownership if it doesn’t work in an emergency situation for some reason. So helping with maintenance is something that my foundation is really starting to focus on. Now that my foundation is around three years old, the first AEDs that we donated now have expired pads and batteries. So I want to make sure that everyone that who we’ve donated to has up to date pads and batteries… it’s really a huge emphasis for me. It’s great to donate or even buy these devices. But if you just forget about the maintenance part and an emergency happens, and the AEDs batteries are dead… well, then that’s a huge disservice. To be honest, this is the biggest challenge that we’re going through as a foundation.
And do you think this issue of maintenance is probably one of the biggest issues with AEDs today?
Definitely. I don’t know the exact statistics on this. But based on my experiences, my guess is there’s a whole lot of people out there who have no idea if their AED has been serviced… if their pads are working… and it’s just because they don’t have a plan. They don’t have a way of knowing or the knowledge that they should be maintaining these devices.
Makes sense. So let’s take a step back. There’s a ton of great organizations across the U.S. such as yours that have been doing tremendous work to raise awareness regarding SCA for years. But, with that being said, why do you think that the awareness level across the general public on the topic is still so low?
My honest opinion is that I think one of the biggest reasons SCA isn’t better understood is because it’s not visible enough to the average person. And what I mean by visible is that you have no clue just by looking at someone that they suffer from an abnormal heart rhythm or some kind of heart disease. I’m the perfect example of this. I was a 17-year-old, perfectly healthy, very active athlete… no one would’ve ever expected that I had a fatal heart condition. And so it’s tough for people to sympathize or understand cardiac arrest until it personally impacts them in some way.
That’s actually a really interesting way of looking at it. And so as we’re finishing up, I’ll open up the floor to you to leave a message to all the readers regarding cardiac arrest, prevention, education, etc…
I think there are a lot of people doing a lot of good work like preventative heart screenings, there’s more AEDs being placed, etc… but the survival rates from SCA are still less than 10%. And to me that’s the challenge. We have to find a way to work together to make that number grow. Because less than 10% is a really really scary statistic.
Absolutely. All of us at Revive completely agree with you, and are working together to change the status quo on that statistic. Thank you so much for your time Mike. I really appreciate you sharing your perspectives!
Of course, thank you for the opportunity!
About Mike: Mike Papale is the President of In A Heartbeat Foundation, which exists to raise the awareness of sudden cardiac arrest and Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy, donate and provide qualified organizations with Automated External Defibrillators and assist with the creation of action plans for emergency situations; and support, fund and advance the research of HCM. If you’re interested in supporting the great work that In A Heartbeat does, please consider donating here: https://inaheartbeat.networkforgood.com/projects/60896-in-a-heartbeat-end-of-the-year-campaign