WALLINGFORD — Mike Papale’s life was saved 10 years ago by a well-trained EMT, four other emergency workers and one automated external defibrillator when he suffered sudden cardiac arrest at age 17, in the prime of his high school basketball career.
Papale, now 27, has made it his life’s work to make sure others will have the chance to survive like he did.
On Wednesday afternoon, surrounded by family and friends and members of his “In A Heartbeat” non-profit foundation, Papale donated his first AED machine. The first recipient was Wallingford’s Ulbrich Boys & Girls Club in his hometown.
In front of 30 members of the Boys & Girls Club, Papale recounted what happened to him on August 24, 2006 at the Wallingford YMCA when he suddenly slumped over on the bleachers and stopped breathing.
Emergency services were called. Wallingford volunteer firefighter and EMT Bob Huebner was the first to respond. Huebner, by chance, was in a nearby building. He performed CPR and kept Papale alive until four paramedics arrived with an AED and got his heart pumping at a normal rhythm.
Papale was rushed to MidState Medical Center in Meriden, where he survived a second cardiac arrest. Eventually, he was diagnosed with Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy.
Aside from a setback a year and a half ago — an infection required emergency surgery — Papale is now living a normal life. He is the assistant men’s basketball at Southern Connecticut State University.
There was no AED on site that day 10 years ago and that’s what Papale is hoping to change with his foundation.
“I think they should be everywhere, just like a fire extinguisher,” said Mike’s mom, Joan Papale. “I’ve watched him battle back twice and for him to come out of it and do this, I couldn’t be prouder.
“I call him my Superman. He was never, ‘Poor me.’ It was always, ‘What do I from here?’ He wanted to start this foundation.”
Mike’s parents, Joan and Mike, are on the “In A Heartbeat” board of directors. So are Huebner and his wife Tracey, who remain very close with the Papales.
“I consider Mike my third son,” Huebner said. “It’s like having a third son that fell from the stars. This is my gift. People wonder what life is about. Mine has been answered.”
Huebner is still a North Farms Volunteer Fire Department and he said the department is always looking for people to train in CPR. Those skills were invaluable in Huebner doing his part to keep Papale alive.
“I walked through those doors and it was pandemonium,” Huebner said of that day 10 years ago. “There were people all around. I knew right away he was in cardiac arrest and, fortunately, I had the skills that day and I was able to upgrade the call and do CPR. He was also blessed with having four full paramedics show up with all of the tools and they did a phenomenal job.
“One of the most awesome things I’ve seen in my entire life was when they shocked him with the AED and you could see his heart rhythm come back.”
With the stress of the situation, Huebner isn’t certain the number of rounds of CPR he performed on Papale that day.
“He should not have survived or have been as cognitive,” Huebner said. “Everything worked out that day. It’s a blessing.”
Huebner said he is pleased to be a part of Papale’s foundation, especially being on the front line.
“I’m seeing first-hand when these units are placed, people are surviving,” Huebner said.
The Boys & Girls Club received what is expected to be the first of many AEDs delivered by Papale’s foundation. The cost ranges from $12,000 to $15,000 per AED.
“I want to grow to a national level, but to start in your home town is special,” Papale said. “I think I got a second chance. Bob gave me a second chance. For a reason, I got that chance and there have been so many that didn’t have a second chance. I want to save someone from going through the near tragedy that I almost had gone through.
“My goal is to donate as many AED’s as possible throughout the country so as many lives as possible can be saved.”
His father, Mike Papale, said this non-profit foundation is his son’s passion.
“This is what he loves to do,” the elder Papale said. “We want to make the foundation bigger. It’s going to take time. He’s willing to work and, if I know him, he’s going to make it happen.
“It’s a great day for the Boys & Girls Club. If we can save one life with these distributors that we are donating, then it’s all well worth it.”
Megan Lenzzo, the interim executive director at the Ulbrich Boys & Girls Club, was a classmate of Papale’s at Sheehan.
“Our club is in need of may types of donations,” Lenzzo said. “Safety is our No. 1 priority, so this fills one of the needs that we have. We are thankful to provide high quality safety to the kids with this donation. It’s great work that he does.”
The Boys & Girls Club serves 60-80 children daily.