WALLINGFORD — Many in our area of the state are familiar with the remarkable story of Mike Papale.
He was a 17-year-old basketball star on Aug. 24, 2006, when he went into cardiac arrest at the Wallingford YMCA.
Papale, now 32, divulges the details of that harrowing day when he was brought back to life, his long road back with his family and friends by his side and the last 15 years of living with heart disease. Since that day, he has devoted much of his life to saving other lives with his nonprofit foundation In A Heartbeat. He has raised money to purchase automated external defibrillators to be put in many schools and public places around the state. That’s the same device that saved his life after volunteer EMT Bob Huebner administered CPR until other paramedics arrived with the AED.
All of that and much more is in Papale’s upcoming 190-page book called “A Big Heart” which will officially be released on Sept. 1.
“I’ve been working on the book for a few years and there are a few reasons for it,” Papale said. “I went through cardiac arrest and found out I had heart disease at 17 years old. Doctors keep you safe, but it’s important for heart disease patients to hear and learn from other patients. It would have helped if I had a mentor that had gone through the same things that I did with heart disease and learned about their life and I feel this book can be helpful for others with heart disease.”
“I also believe as a heart disease patient, you can live a normal, long life with some limitations,” Papale added. “I’m hoping to live with it for 80 years. I want to help other heart disease patients. I wanted to do this for inspiration and someone turning a traumatic situation into a triumph.”
Mike Papale, a Wallingford native, was a McDonald’s All-American nominee, All-SCC and All-State basketball player at Sheehan High School and was on a path of achieving his dream of playing college basketball. He was starting to draw interest from college coaches heading into his senior year at Sheehan before his health emergency.
His diagnosis of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy ended his playing days on the court. The book opens with the cardiac arrest.
“I didn’t remember it at all so I went through the whole day with my parents and brother John and my friend Conor Meehan and made them relive one of the worst days of their lives,” Papale said. “I’m sure there are some things they want to forget but they can’t. I asked them to bring it to the forefront for their recollection. I wanted to know everything they remembered and saw. I appreciate them doing that. I think that put them in a dark place with a dark memory, but I was pretty sure they could relive it pretty vividly.”
Papale puts the reader in his mind when he comes out of a coma in the hospital.
“I put myself back into the first day I was in the hospital to where I am now,” Papale said. “It’s a good thing to do. It’s therapeutic to go through all of the ups and downs and good and bad things. It’s important to be upfront and honest. I hope it’s helpful to those that may go through the same thing I went through.”
Papale reached out to medical professionals who treated him for medical accuracy in the book. Those doctors included Dr. Felice Heller, pediatric cardiologist at Connecticut Children’s Medical Center; Dr. Ramesh Iyer, pediatric electrophysiologist at Connecticut Children’s Medical Center (currently Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia); Dr. Martin Maron, cardiologist and director at HCM Institute - Tufts Medical Center; Dr. Mark Link, electrophysiologist at Tufts Medical Center (currently UT Southwestern) and Noreen Dolan, nurse practitioner at Tufts Medical Center.
“This was really something he really wanted to do,” John Papale said. “He wants to serve as an inspiration to others. I’m super happy and proud of him. He wants others to connect with him and I think they will when they read his story.”
The younger Papale said he’s most impressed with his big brother’s attitude.
“I would consider myself closer to him than almost anyone else and he never had that attitude of ‘poor me,’” John Papale said. “He never had that outlook. He was always super positive. It’s remarkable. I don’t know if I would be capable of the same mindset and now he’s committed himself to help saving lives. His dedication to his cause is incredible.”
John Papale went on to play Division I basketball at Boston University. Now 28, Papale works in advertising in Boston.
“I remember him being a great player and the player I looked up to and idolized the most,” John Papale said of his brother. “I’m his brother, but I thought he was as good as any player I saw him play against. Smart player and a great shooter. But he had more of a feel of the game than just being a shooter. I remember him being pretty great. Now when we play golf or tennis, he’s still very competitive. If anything, he’s gotten more intense.”
Basketball remains a major part of Mike Papale’s life. After assistant coaching stints at Quinnipiac, UMass-Lowell and Southern Connecticut State University, he’s entering his fourth year as head coach of the Fairfield Prep boys varsity basketball team.
Papale said his players are familiar with his story and the work he does with AED’s.
“The message I want people to get from the book is when you hit bumps in the road in life, those experiences can make you a better person,” Papale said. “Everything that has happened to me has molded me to who I am. I wouldn’t be the person I am if I didn’t go through that day. It helped me find a purpose in life. For anyone with a disease, be patient to let life come back to normal. It takes time. You can live a long, normal life with heart disease.”
Papale now lives in Stamford and works as the manager of community relations for Guilford-based Defibtech, a company that produces AED’s.
Papale started writing the book in 2016 and finished it during the last year. It’s self published and the e-book will be sold on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple Books, Google Play, and KOBO. The paperback will be sold on Amazon. All versions of the book are currently available for pre-order. Visit www.michaelpapale.com/book for more information about the book.