A Coach With a New Career

A Coach With a New Career

Dale Wakasugi, St Paul, MN – 49 at time of event (2007)

It all started in Seattle sometime in 1995. Dale was a victim of his heredity, and not a traditional Japanese one. Working in the pharmaceutical industry he was only 36 years old, and yet he suffered a heart attack. Technically known as an MI (Myocardial Infarction) it was caused by a blockage of his LAD (Left Anterior Descending artery). He had been a very active, non-drinker, non-smoker who played college baseball. The blockage wasn’t severe enough to warrant a stent, so diet and exercise were prescribed. Dale moved to Minnesota for his job and regularly visited his cardiologist, undergoing annual stress tests which he passed every time.

In 1998 Dale started refereeing basketball, but in 2007 with five minutes left in the game at Fridley High School, the 49-year-old suffered a cardiac arrest.
“I went down, bam, and it was lights out. I don’t remember a thing, but a sixteen-year-old girl from the high-school ran out of the stands and started CPR,” Dale said in awe. As more people gathered to help, someone grabbed an AED from the wall of the gymnasium.
“She hit the button, one shock and I was back to life!”
The hero was 11th-grader Lindsey Paradise, now a good friend of Dales. She had learnt how to perform CPR and use an AED just three weeks earlier in health class. She even had a disposable mask in her purse, left over from the course, and had used it on Dale!

That trip to the emergency ward resulted in Dale having three stents inserted in his LAD, the very thing his cardiologist had predicted might occur if the plaque broke off. Three days later he was home recuperating when he started feeling sick. “I was feeling a pressure in my chest, and my wife asked ‘Are you okay?’ I said ‘I don’t think so.’ She called 9-1-1.”
Dale had suffered another heart attack, this time from clots forming around the stents.
“I was awake the whole time—it was the absolute worse thing I’ve been through in my life. The pain was excruciating. I had all the classic symptoms: cold sweat, pressure in the chest, radiating down the arms. It was terrible.” Another trip to the catheterization laboratory that month and he received two additional stents to seal the edges of the previous one.
“Another week in the hospital and I felt great, but they wouldn’t send me home. I just couldn’t work that out.” Dale’s ejection fraction* was only 30% and the cardiologist was concerned that Dale might have another cardiac arrest, so they installed an ICD to protect him. He went home December 25th. “I went back to refereeing Feb 4th, and I’ve been fully active [ever since].”
“The hearts a muscle, the more you work it, the stronger it gets.” Dale said matter-of-factly. “I feel the best I’ve felt in years.”

Dale left the pharmaceutical industry and now works for a company selling AEDs and training people in CPR. “I work very closely with the Minnesota State High School League on a campaign raising awareness of SCA and the importance of having AEDs in the schools**.” Dale said with pride. “I’m out there talking about things that mean something to me now, that I have a passion for,” he added.
“I was saved because of the quick response of several people, that knew what they were doing. And the quick deployment of the AED. I’m absolutely 100% certain I would be dead [without the AED].”

 -Jeremy Whitehead
* Ejection Fraction (LVEF) is a measure of heart performance, describing the ratio between blood entering the heart and that “ejected” during contraction of the ventricles. A normal range is 50-55%, below 35% is considered dangerous for SCA.
** Anyone Can Save A Life campaign, in conjunction with the Medtronic Foundation

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