American Heart Association Announces Co-Chairs for the 2018 Eastern Connecticut Heart Walk

The American Heart Association, the largest voluntary health organization fighting heart disease and other cardiovascular diseases, announces Kevin Brown of Mohegan Tribe and Donna Handley of Hartford HealthCare will co-chair the 2018 Eastern Connecticut Heart Walk. The annual event will take place on Sunday, September 23 at the Mohegan Reservation in Uncasville. 

 Brown and Handley will lead the organizational and recruitment efforts in eastern Connecticut. They will call on thousands of area volunteers, survivors, walkers, and business leaders to step up to fight cardiovascular diseases.

“Working in the healthcare industry, I understand the need for continual support in the fight against heart disease through funding and awareness,” said Handley, “Hartford HealthCare is committed to helping people live healthier lives and by supporting the American Heart Association’s Heart Walk – we are joining together to advance their lifesaving mission of reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease while encouraging a culture of physical activity.”

The Eastern Connecticut Heart Walk will attempt to raise more than $370,000 to fund research and education to fight heart disease and stroke. Each day, nearly 2,400 Americans die from a cardiovascular disease. That’s an average of one death every 37 seconds. A leading risk factor for heart attack and stroke is lack of physical activity. Research has found that individuals may gain two hours of life expectancy for every one hour of regular, vigorous exercise they do.

“Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States and it is no secret that it affects the Native American community at rates higher than most others,” said Brown. “This is one of the many reasons I take particular pride in continuing my co-chair role where I have the opportunity to help promote health and wellness and change these statistics. On behalf of the Tribe, we are honored to once again host the annual walk and are so proud of the dedication, commitment and support of our team members who participate each year – leading the way in the state and region helping to continue to support the American Heart Association’s lifesaving mission.”

In her role as President of Hartford HealthCare’s East Region, Donna Handley provides executive leadership for the East Region which includes The William W. Backus Hospital in Norwich, Windham Community Hospital in Willimantic, the Plainfield Emergency and Ambulatory Center, various outpatient clinics and urgent care centers.

Kevin Brown is serving his second term as chairman of the Mohegan Tribe. As chairman, Brown is responsible for maintaining the sovereignty that the Mohegan Tribe fought hundreds of years for, overseeing its numerous business entities and ensuring the well-being of its more than 2,100 Tribal citizens. Brown also serves as Chairman of the Mohegan Gaming & Entertainment (MGE) Management Board which oversees gaming entities across the country, as well as two professional sports teams.

To learn more about the Eastern Connecticut Heart Walk, or to find out about sponsorship opportunities, please call John Brannelly at 203-295-2941 or go to www.EasternCTHeartWalk.org.



The American Heart Association launches Innovation Challenge to Identify Health Solutions that Address Social Determinants of Health

Applications sought through June 8 for initiative that awards $30,000 in grants


The American Heart Association is seeking applicants for the 2018 Northeast Health Equity Consortium Innovation Challenge, a grant-based initiative to identify innovative, clearly-defined solutions to improve the health and well-being in urban communities in New England, New York and New Jersey.


Community environments play a crucial role in health outcomes. People living just five miles apart can have a difference in life expectancy of more than 20 years. That’s why the American Heart Association – the world’s leading voluntary organization dedicated to building healthier lives, free of cardiovascular diseases and stroke – is seeking fresh ideas to impact health.


The Innovation Challenge will provide funding to the best creative solutions that increase healthy living behaviors, enhance the chain of survival and cultivate community transformation. Successful applicants are expected to use data and/or research to address issues such as inadequate housing, education, access to healthcare, and healthy food access. Candidates must complete an online application by the June 8 deadline.


Finalists are expected to be available to present their project before an audience at the Northeast Health Equity Consortium on June 28, in Hartford, Conn. Three projects will be selected to receive an $8,000 award. An additional six projects will be invited to attend the conference and be recognized with a $1,000 award.


The odds are stacked against low-income communities and communities of color. That is why the American Heart Association is focused on improving social determinants of health, the conditions in which people are born, grow, live, work and age that influence their health outcomes. The Association is committed to ensuring that all Americans have equal opportunity to make choices that lead to good health.


For additional information about the Innovation Challenge and to submit an application, click here or visit https://americanheart.co1.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_4YGpBpcGlehPnCt.


Connecticut Residents Can Fight A Silent Killer With Blood Pressure Management Program

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, over thirty percent of adults in Connecticut have high blood pressure and many more may be at risk.


The American Heart Association/American Stroke Association, offers the free Check. Change. Control. ® program to help individuals identify, track, lower and maintain healthy blood pressure levels. As part of the program, participants check their blood pressure regularly either using an at-home device or available screening locations in the community and have access to resources to help them reach their blood pressure goals. In Connecticut, the American Heart Association issued a statewide Check It! Challenge to encourage residents to get checked and to track their progress at www.ccctracker.com using the campaign code CHKCT.  Participants commit to checking their blood pressure twice each month, changing to healthier habits, and work towards controlling their blood pressure.

High blood pressure, also called hypertension, is a pressure of 130 systolic or higher, or 80 diastolic or higher, that stays high over time. Nearly half of the American population over age 20

has high blood pressure, and African-Americans are disproportionally impacted.


“Organizations and community groups that provide blood pressure screenings are helping save lives,” says Connecticut American Heart Association Community Health Director, Lisa Neff. “High blood pressure is the second leading cause of death in the U.S., behind smoking cigarettes. You can see a cigarette in someone’s hand and know it’s bad, and a smoker knows they’re smoking. You can’t see or feel high blood pressure. Check. Change. Control. provides an educational platform as well as a tool for individuals to use and that accountability within the program can really help motivate people to improve their health.”


According to the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association, African-Americans in the United States have the highest rates of high blood pressure than any group in the world –

nearly half of blacks in the U.S. have it. In addition, compared with whites, blacks have nearly twice the risk of fatal stroke. About half of the higher stroke risk can be attributed to high systolic blood pressure readings.


“With a concerted focus on controlling blood pressure by self-monitoring, we can help people avoid very costly consequences such as heart attack, stroke, heart failure, and even death, particularly among African American communities,” said Neff.
While there is no cure, using medications as prescribed and making positive lifestyle changes can help enhance your quality of life and reduce your risk of heart disease, stroke, kidney disease and more.

Make changes that matter:

By adopting a heart-healthy lifestyle, you can reduce high blood pressure, prevent or delay the development of high blood pressure and enhance the effectiveness of blood pressure medications. You will also lower your risk of a heart attack, stroke, heart failure, kidney damage, and vision loss.

While heart disease is still the number-one killer in the United States and around the world, death rates have decreased significantly, thanks in part to earlier and better treatment of high blood pressure. Joining the Check It! program can help you begin on a path of better health.


For more information about Check. Change. Control. and the Check It! program in Connecticut contact Lisa Neff at 203-295-2954 or Lisa.Neff@heart.org.  For information about high blood pressure, visit www.heart.org/hbp.


Anthem President Supports Heart Health in New Haven

The American Heart Association, the largest voluntary health organization fighting heart disease and other cardiovascular diseases, announces Jill Hummel, president, Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield, as chair of the 2018 Greater New Haven Heart Walk. The 2018 New Haven Heart Walk will take place on Saturday, May 5. Registration opens at 9:00am and the Walk kicks off at 10:00am at Savin Rock in West Haven.

 As chair, Jill Hummel will lead the organizational and recruitment efforts in the New Haven area. She will call on thousands of area volunteers, survivors, walkers, and business leaders to step up to reduce disability and death from cardiovascular disease and stroke, the leading cause of death in the United States.

“Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States with over 7,000 deaths in Connecticut each year”, said Ms. Hummel. “Working with the American Heart Association in many capacities over the past several years, I am happy to have the opportunity to continue to promote health and wellness to help change these statistics and raise the funds needed to support such a critical cause.  Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield has been a strong supporter of the American Heart Association and we are committed to continue our support to advance this lifesaving mission.”

Each day, nearly 2,400 Americans die from a cardiovascular disease. That’s an average of one death every 37 seconds. A leading risk factor for heart attack and stroke is lack of physical activity. The New Haven Heart Walk encourages physical activity while raising funds to support research, advocacy and awareness of cardiovascular disease and stroke research has found that individuals may gain two hours of life expectancy for every one hour of regular, vigorous exercise they do.

To learn more about the Greater New Haven Heart Walk, or to find out about sponsorship opportunities, please call Emily Linley at (203) 295-2936 or go to www.NewHavenHeartWalk.org.



Four tips to move more in April

The American Heart Association’s Healthy For Good™ Challenges
All People to Move More and Live More

Staying active is a no-brainer when it comes to improving how you look and feel, yet according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only 56.1 percent of New York adults are getting the recommended amount of aerobic physical activity. This month the American Heart Association, the world’s leading voluntary organization dedicated to building healthier lives, free of cardiovascular diseases and stroke, is challenging everyone to get moving.


Move More Month is part of the association’s Healthy For Good™ movement, which inspires people everywhere to make lasting changes in their health and their lives, one small step at a time.


Wednesday, April 4 is Move More Day, formerly National Walking Day. The Heart Association encourages everyone to gather friends, coworkers, family, the family pet, and move! You could walk, run, bike, shoot hoops, do hula hoops, do a little yoga – whatever your favorite kind of movement is, just do it!


“The human body was designed to move,” said Eduardo Sanchez, M.D., M.P.H., FAAFP, American Heart Association’s chief medical officer for prevention. “Your body thanks you for moving by relieving anxiety, depression and even anger, and rewards you by making your brain and heart stronger.”


Not only can moving more help improve self-confidence, energy levels and sleep quality, those who are physically active and at a healthy weight live about seven years longer than those who are not active and are obese.


People are encouraged to share how they’re moving more in April by using the hashtags #HealthyForGood and #MoveWithHeart on social media.


“Just 150 minutes a week of activity that gets your heart pumping and leaves you a little breathless can provide major health benefits,” said Lenora Johnson, DrPh, director Office of Science Policy, Engagement, Education, and Communications at the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute at the National Institutes of Health. “We started #MoveWithHeart in February to encourage everyone to move more and we’re excited to see the American Heart Association’s Healthy For Good movement promoting it in April.”


The American Heart Association’s Healthy For Good movement encourages everyone to get moving with the following tips:



  1. Work it… at Work – Whether you work in an office, at home or behind the wheel, chances are you spend a lot of time sitting. Not enough time to move? Try moving more while you perform routine tasks. Start by taking one weekly meeting to go by walking while you meet. Other options include taking the stairs more often, parking farther out or taking stretch breaks throughout the day.
  2. Play with Fido – Most pet owners will tell you that having a pet can relieve stress and boost overall happiness. But did you know that people who walk their dogs are more likely to get the recommended amount of physical activity than those who don’t. According to one study, dog-walkers got an average of 30 minutes more exercise a day than non-walkers.
  3. Make it a Family Affair – You don’t need to break the bank to move more with your kids. There are numerous tips to keep your family active on the cheap. And if the weather is bad or outdoor activities are out of the question, try dancing, playing or cleaning indoors. Want to get out? Go for a walk around the mall or check out recreation centers in your neighborhood.
  4. Bust a Move Anywhere – The American Heart Association recommends adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate activity every week. That can be accomplished by taking small activity breaks, setting reasonable expectations and finding a move more buddy. No matter what you do, it’s important to stay motivated by making every move count and celebrate your accomplishments.

Find resources and join the movement to be Healthy For Good at heart.org/MoveMore.




Kids to share 21 reasons for supporting Tobacco 21 in CT

Students from around Connecticut participate in a press conference at the State Capitol showing support of raising the tobacco sale age to 21.

Today, students of all ages came to the Connecticut Legislative Building to meet with legislators and share reasons for supporting ‘Tobacco 21’- raising the sale age of tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, to 21 in Connecticut. The event was held in conjunction with lobby days for both the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN) and the American Heart Association. Advocates from across the state came to speak to their lawmakers about making cancer, heart disease and stroke legislative priorities.

During a press conference and in individual meetings, the students educated legislators on why it is important to them to raise the state’s tobacco sale age to 21 and about the need to reduce the number of teens taking up smoking and using other tobacco products. As a group they provided 21 reasons why ‘Tobacco 21’ matters to them and makes sense for the state. The youth are part of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Connecticut as well as other youth groups focused on health issues from across the state.

The students participating were from the following towns: Berlin, Bristol, Hartford, Newington, Norwalk, Plymouth, Southington, Wallingford, Wolcott.

Research shows 95% of smokers started before the age of 21.

Every year in Connecticut, nearly 1,300 kids under age 18 will become new daily smokers, and 56,000 kids in the state under the age of 18 now will ultimately die prematurely from smoking. Currently, 10.3% of high school students smoke and 7.2% of high school students use e-cigarettes.

Southington resident, Leigh Pechillo talks to Sen. Joe Markley about why raising the  sale age of tobacco products to 21 will save lives of children in Connecticut.

“Here in Connecticut, 4,900 deaths are caused by smoking each year, and another 450 people die from second hand smoke – and this is simply unacceptable”, said Bryte Johnson, director of government relations for ACS CAN in Connecticut. “We know that an increase in the legal sale age of tobacco can be a critical component of a comprehensive approach tobacco control, and thus a powerful tool in the fight against cancer.”

“Studies show that if a youth reaches the age of 21 without smoking, the chance of them ever doing so plummets to two per cent. The lifesaving potential of this legislation is massive,” said Jim Williams, Government Relations Director for the American Heart/American Stroke Association. “We know that kids gain access to tobacco products from older kids—siblings, friends at school. So, raising the age will help eliminate tobacco from younger kids’ social circles.”

Youth from the Boys and Girls Club from around Connecticut raise their voice to raise the sale age of  cigarettes and other tobacco products to 21.

Most teens who smoke and use tobacco report getting cigarettes and other products from their friends; 90% of those who provide cigarettes to younger teens are under the age of 21. Eighty percent of youth smokers will become adult smokers and one-half of adult smokers will die prematurely from tobacco-related diseases.

Five states (New Jersey, Maine, Oregon, California and Hawaii), along with more than 290 localities (including more than 60% of the populations of New York and 70% of the population of Massachusetts) have raised their tobacco sales to 21.



Nutrition Tips For Healthier Families

March is National Nutrition Month and the American Heart Association is working to help kids and families live heart-healthy lives by setting healthier diet goals. About one in three American kids and teens are overweight or obese, which can lead to a broad range of health problems. You can help your child develop healthy habits early in life that will bring lifelong benefits.

Here are 10 simple tips to help you and your family on the right path to good health.

  1. Make it fun for kids to try new fruits and vegetables. Let them pick out a new fruit or vegetable in the grocery store each week, and figure out together how to cook or prepare it in a healthy way.  
  2. Whole grains are a good option! Choose whole-grain foods, such as whole-wheat bread, rye bread, brown rice, popcorn, oatmeal and whole-grain cereal.
  3. When you cook at home you have more control over ingredients and portion sizes, so aim to cook at home more often than eating out. Get great recipes and tips at heart.org/simplecooking.
  4. Ninety percent of kids eat too much sodium. Use fresh herbs can wake up any recipe, along with your taste buds, with fresh and bold flavor, without adding salt flavor. Go to heart.org/sodium and take the pledge and learn how to reduce the sodium your family eats.
  5. Watch out for added sugars. They add extra calories but no helpful nutrients. Sugar-sweetened beverages and soft drinks are the number one source of added sugars for most of us. Try sparkling water, unsweetened tea or sugar-free beverages instead of sugar-sweetened soda or tea. Add lemon, lime or berries to beverages for extra flavor.
  6. Schedule time each week to plan healthy meals. Keep your recipes, grocery list and coupons in the same place to make planning and budgeting easier. This will keep you from calling for take- out which can be high in calories and are high in sodium.
  7. Enjoy fruit for dessert most days and limit traditional desserts to special occasions. Try a delicious smoothie, a mixed berry and yogurt parfait, or a baked spiced apple or pear!
  8. Get your kids in the kitchen! They’ll be more excited about eating healthy foods when they’ve been involved. Give them age-appropriate tasks and keep a step-stool handy.
  9. Chicken, fish and beans are good choices for protein. Remove skin and visible fat from poultry. If you do eat red meat, limit it to once in a while, keep portion size small and choose the leanest cuts.
  10. Make a game of reading food labels – The whole family will learn what’s good for their health and be more conscious of what they eat. It’s a habit that helps change behavior for a lifetime.

The American Heart Association offers more resources to help your kids live a longer, stronger life. For information and tips on healthier kids including weight management, physical activity and nutrition go to heart.org/healthierkids.


“If I Had Not Questioned the Evaluation, I Would Not Be Here Today”

I have always tried to be healthy – I go to the gym to workout, eat healthy, rarely drink, never smoked, and yet I am a survivor of heart disease.

It started years ago when I learned that I had a heart murmur. The heart murmur required no medications, but just something one lives with based on its condition.  Over the years, it was monitored by a cardiologist until one day in 2013, when my status changed.

I was experiencing chest pains due to pneumonia, not once, but twice.  This concerned me, so I went to my General Practitioner who advised that I have an echocardiogram and a consult with a Cardiothoracic Surgeon. After meeting with the Cardiothoracic Surgeon, and reviewing my echo-cardiograms and past records, I was told that I did not meet the criteria for open heart surgery which was typically performed when someone is older, less active and with a family history. Also, the surgeon said they only operate when the diameter of the aneurysm reaches 5.5 centimeters. My measurement was a 4.8. They sent me on my way – without any follow-up appointmens and was told to go back to my cardiologist.

I knew that I did have some family history of heart disease and although they didn’t feel I was a candidate – I can tell you, IF I had NOT questioned the evaluation, I would not be here today.
This is MY health and yet a small voice inside me said keep going and just live my life. If the surgeon was not worried, why should I be concerned?   I had no medical background and more importantly – NO SYMPTOMS.

The holidays came, life got busy and I put my health to the backburner.

In the meantime, my sister who enjoys doing research, looked into the John Ritter Foundation to see what else we could learn about Ascending Aortic Aneurysm.  I decided to call the Foundation and the representative asked, “Are you in Connecticut?”  I said “Yes”.  The representative said, “Do you know you have a “Rockstar” right in Connecticut at the Yale Aortic Institute?”  I had no idea!

I was grateful to learn it was Dr. John Elefteriades- commonly known as “Dr. E”.  But what is the likelihood I can meet a famous surgeon at Yale?  I saw he was having a book signing at the Yale bookstore and off to Yale we went!  The book signing was where my husband and I met Dr. E for the first of many times to come.  He was so great to listen to my situation and after hearing my story – he wanted to review my records.

For those of you who do not know Dr. E., he is one of the most accomplished aortic surgeons in the world – and created the Aortic Institute at Yale.  It was this initial meeting that I knew good or bad, regardless of the outcome, was the doctor I was going to entrust to take care of my heart.

Dr. E of Yale New Haven Hospital

After my evaluation with Dr. E., he advised me I needed surgery sooner than later. Even though he agreed with the first surgeon’s diagnosis of the anueryism, He explained that in his research/ experience the diameter of the aorta was relative to the patient’s size ( height and weight). It was just about 7 weeks later I was on the operating table with what was to become, one of the most difficult aortic dissections Dr. E. had experienced – his words – not mine.  The ascending side of my aorta was dissecting during surgery as he operated on me for a little over 7 hours.

To say I was relieved to know what it was, and have it corrected is an understatement.

At my 1 month follow up, Dr. E. asked about my siblings – knowing this heart condition can be genetic. My sister was examined and thanks to Dr. E, was found to have the same heart problem which could be corrected to save her life. And only 5 months after my surgery, she was having the same open-heart surgery and the same mechanical valve was placed.

The efforts of Dr. E and his team at the Aortic Institute, along with the American Heart Association are making great progress to fight heart disease.  There are more and more women and men being saved as a result of challenging the “typical patient” characteristics of heart disease.  Because of that, my sister and I are gratefully here today.

No one would ever choose to have a health crisis of any type, especially one which has no symptoms, is genetic, and can kill you instantly like anuerysm. And in the case of anuerysms if there is a close relative who has experienced one, you have a 21% greater chance of also having one. My sister and I are so blessed to have survived this experience.

We do not get to choose our genes, but I am here to tell you please to know yours. Learn your family history and don’t give up if that little voice in your head tells you something is off.

We, as women take care of so much for so many – whether it is a friend, co-worker, parent, child or someone else who is important to us. It is easy to ignore vague health issues which may be overshadowed by the attention and commotion of everyday life. I hope my story inspires others to take time to care for yourself. Remember, you are not replaceable.

People say to me, “You are so brave”. I saw a quote once that sums up how I truly feel: “Being brave, doesn’t mean you are not scared, it just means you go ahead and do it anyway”.





The American Stroke Association receives $11.1 million gift from The Henrietta B. and Frederick H. Bugher Foundation

The American Heart Association/American Stroke Association (AHA/ASA), the world’s leading voluntary health organization devoted to fighting cardiovascular disease and stroke, announces its fifth major philanthropic gift from the Henrietta B. and Frederick H. Bugher Foundation. With its latest gift, the Bugher Foundation will invest more than $11.1 million to fund the creation of a new targeted research network in hemorrhagic stroke, a specific type of stroke that occurs when a weakened blood vessel ruptures. The announcement was made at the Association’s International Stroke Conference in Los Angeles, California. Together, all forms of stroke currently comprise the fifth leading cause of all deaths in the United States.  

To date, the foundation has invested more than $48 million in the AHA/ASA over the course of three decades, often in previously under-funded research areas. The distinctive and long-standing relationship between the foundation and the AHA/ASA continues with the development of the new ASA-Bugher Foundation Centers of Excellence in Hemorrhagic Stroke. There is a demonstrated gap in the scientific understanding of the multiple causes of this type of stroke, as well as how these serious events can best be prevented and treated. Hemorrhagic stroke currently accounts for approximately 15 percent of all stroke cases every year and these episodes have a fatality rate of nearly 50 percent in some studies. Because of the severity of this type of stroke, more than 100,000 people a year will die following a hemorrhagic stroke; especially if they do not have immediate access to highly trained medical centers who have neurosurgery expertise available.

 “Since 1984, the AHA/ASA and the Bugher Foundation have collaborated to take calculated risks and fund areas of science where there is real need; areas of science that others have often ignored. Over the years, we have built a legacy of scientific excellence that has pushed boundaries and saved lives,” said Nancy Brown, CEO of the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association. “I’m thrilled to embark on our latest collaborative initiative — new Centers of Excellence in Hemorrhagic Stroke that will put patients at the center of research in support of bold advances, while inspiring and training the next generation of interdisciplinary stroke researchers.”

 The ASA-Bugher Centers of Excellence in Hemorrhagic Stroke will employ core collaborative research, training and science. Project investigators and their fellows will build a strong network, and share their work broadly so that the scientific community at large can benefit.

 Precision medicine and data analysis will also play a key role in the research process. Specific components will include:

•Between three and five Centers of Excellence, engaging in up to three innovative research projects each, designed to make breakthroughs in prevention and/or treatment of hemorrhagic stroke;

•A centralized training structure, designing activities and engagement for fellows recruited by the Centers;

•An oversight advisory group of stroke thought-leaders to guide and oversee Center operations and to encourage approaches to specific, collaborative research questions;

•Open data sharing between projects and the greater research community using the AHA Precision Medicine Platform™, a state-of-the-art discovery portal, where researchers and physicians can quickly access and share information, collaborate on research and use precision medicine to treat cardiovascular disease and stroke;

•Development of a patient-focused hemorrhagic stroke cohort for integration into the AHA’s My Research Legacy™ initiative, a platform where people can sign up to share health, genetic and lifestyle data, to help researchers in their quest to end multiple forms of heart disease and stroke at the earliest possible time.

 As part of the My Research Legacy™ component of this initiative, the American Heart Association is currently reaching out to engage survivors and families of those affected by hemorrhagic stroke.

 An open application process for scientists interested in applying for funding as a part of this exciting research network will be announced in late 2019.

 “The blueprint for the ASA-Bugher Centers of Excellence in Hemorrhagic Stroke stands on the shoulders of our previous four collaborations with the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association,” said Bryan Adams, trustee of the Bugher Foundation. “We are proud and honored to be part of increasing focus on an area of stroke research that deserves more attention.”

 To donate and/or to fund specific programs and events visit www.heart.org/giving.  For more information about stroke, visit http://www.strokeassociation.org/.



Mike’s Story

I have no recollection of the day that changed my life forever. I’ll only be able to tell the stories that I’ve been told. The evening of my sudden cardiac arrest, the doctors told my parents that I had a one in a million chance to survive. Although I’ve had many experiences that I will never forget, I will never remember the day that I went into cardiac arrest.

I was 17 years old at the time and everything seemed to be falling into place. I was a good student, had good friends, and was doing everything I could possibly do to fulfill my dream of being a college basketball player. The morning of August 24, 2006 was no different. I did my daily basketball workout in the morning, and then went over to a local basketball camp where I was a coach. I arrived at the Parks and Recreation Department, where the camp was being held, and walked over to change my shirt. That is all I remember of the day that I “died.”

From what I’ve heard I was sitting down on a bench when I just slumped over onto my knees. No one in the gym really knew what was going on. My dad, my brother, and my best friend stood there, watching. Someone called 911 implying someone had broken a bone. A second 911 was called saying a 17-year-old was on the floor and unresponsive. There was no automated external defibrillator on site.

That was when my hero’s pager went off. Luckily, he was working right next door in a different building. He left work without anyone noticing and ran over to where I was. By the time he got to me, I had turned blue and was taking my last agonal breaths. He gave me CPR perfectly, saving my life (as well as my brain).

When the ambulance arrived, they used an AED to restart my heart and put it into a normal rhythm. They still didn’t know if I would make it. I was brought to MidState Medical Center where I had a second arrest. They wanted to Life Star me to Hartford, but needed a large, specialized ambulance to hold the necessary equipment, doctors and nurses. My mom rode in the front seat of the ambulance, not knowing if I was going to live. Earlier that morning I had been battling on the basketball court; now I was battling for my life. For the next three days, I was unaware of everything. The hospital revived me, but there was still the question of whether I would have brain damage.

hospitalFinally, I started to come around and began to remember where I was and why I was there. I went through some uncomfortable tests, which resulted in the diagnosis of Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy—a thickness of the septum and apex of my heart. After the tests, I thought I would resume my “old” life, with the exception of daily medication. I was right about the medicine, but the doctors delivered some crushing news. I would have an ICD, or a defibrillator, implanted in me and I would never be able to play competitive basketball again. At first I didn’t understand why; basketball was a big part of my life. But as time passed, I began to accept the fact that I was going to have to change many parts of my life. I felt very fortunate to be alive.

After returning home and getting my life back to normal, I felt like I needed to give back. I felt like I needed to help others. My mom contacted the American Heart Association and they welcomed us with open arms. We both became volunteers and spokespeople for them. We agreed to share our story to try to help save lives. We did lobbying in Hartford, as well as Washington D.C. We assisted in two bills being passed in Connecticut mandating defibrillators be placed in all public schools in Connecticut. It was very fulfilling to try to help save someone from going through the trauma we had experienced as a family.

As the years went on, life became more and more normal. I attended Quinnipiac University and started to pursue my new dream: to be a college basketball coach. After graduation I got my first assistant coaching job at the University of Massachusetts-Lowell. After spending a year there, I was lucky enough to get hired back at my alma mater, Quinnipiac University, as the Director of Basketball Operations. Once again, life was falling into place.

In August 2014, eight years after my cardiac arrest, it was time to get my defibrillator battery changed. Although it’s a very routine surgery, my family and I were nervous. I went in for the surgery and unfortunately, it didn’t work. They tested the device with the new battery and it did not shock properly. The doctors decided they were going to add another wire on my left side, going from the device into my heart. They went in the next day to do the surgery, added the wire, and the device worked. I went home to recover and was ready to get back to normal again.

A couple of months later, in October, the device started to get really itchy, swollen and red. I went back to the doctor and he gave me medicine, which made the device look and feel much better. Another month later, in the middle of November, I started getting sick. I was spiking fevers of 103-104 degrees. Again, my doctors had me come back to Boston thinking the device was infected.

IMG_0418Just when everything seemed so normal, life had thrown me another curve ball. After days of running blood work, doctors came to the conclusion that my implanted defibrillator had become infected. It would have to come out. The infection had entered my bloodstream, which made the need for the surgery imminent. This meant the battery and all three leads would need to be removed. We knew there was more risk associated with this surgery. They told me they were going to be prepared for any possibility. There was a 1-2% chance that while removing the leads burrowed in my heart muscle, a tear could occur. It was extremely unlikely, but if it did happen they would have to perform emergency open-heart surgery.

I went into surgery hoping for the best, but unfortunately while they were removing one of the leads, the scar tissue ripped and they had to perform emergency open-heart surgery. Twelve hours later I was brought to the intensive care unit on a ventilator. Once again there was the possibility of brain damage because my blood pressure dropped drastically during the surgery and I required eight blood transfusions.

I awoke Thanksgiving morning. The ventilator was removed and I gave a thumbs-up to my mom and my electro-physiologist. I was about to embark on two of the most physically and mentally challenging months of my life. Fortunately, I had the support of my family and close friends to help me through this time.

After recovering in the hospital and regaining some of my strength, I went home with a pic line in my right arm pumping an antibiotic into my body, and a life vest that would serve as a defibrillator until I got a new one put in. The doctors wanted to be sure the infection had left my system before putting in the new device. At the end of January, they scheduled one final surgery to give me a new device. They installed a new defibrillator (a subcutaneous ICD) and the surgery went perfectly. It was a huge relief for my family and myself.


This story is from Mike’s, non-profit website – http://inaheartbeat.org.  Please visit the site for more information on Mike and his amazing work.