FARMINGTON, CT (WFSB) – February is Heart Month, a time of year dedicated to raising awareness about heart health and ways to prevent heart disease.

Doctors at UConn Health in Farmington are leading the charge on research focused on genetics and our hearts.

“I was a 17-year-old kid, athlete, training at a really high level,” said Mike Papale.

That’s why Mike Papale couldn’t have predicted what happened next.

“I was working at my dad’s basketball camp in Wallingford and I was sitting on the bleachers, and I went into cardiac arrest,” Papale said.

Someone jumped into action, giving Papale CPR before he was rushed to the hospital.

“They put me through a variety of tests and the doctor diagnosed me with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, which was just such a huge surprise to my family and me. We never thought someone who looked so healthy, could have something wrong with their heart,” Papale said,

Papale says doctors implanted a defibrillator into his chest and he takes a beta-blocker twice a day.

“It was definitely a recovery and it took time for me to figure out how to navigate and how to live my life,” Papale said.

Papale says he’s living a normal, healthy life.

“As scary as it might be to find out you have heart disease, they’re manageable conditions, they might impact certain parts of your life, but having knowledge of the disease is power,” Papale said.

Dr. Travis Hinson first met Papale when he came to the Cardiovascular Genetics Clinic at UConn Health.

There, they treat patients who’ve already been diagnosed with a genetic cardiovascular condition or those whose family history shows a higher risk of developing cardiovascular diseases.

“We’ll use genetic testing to find their risk and then screen even younger people in the family,” Dr. Hinson said. “We can use that genetic information to find out who else is at risk and prevent it, that’s the best model.”

Dr. Hinson says they can then come up with an individualized plan.

“We call that personalized and precision medicine as opposed to giving people the same medication no matter what their potential risk is,” Dr. Hinson said.

Through testing, Papale found out his dad also has a condition.

“But, had no idea until they diagnosed me,” Papale said.

Papale’s mission is to spread awareness and to do what he can to help.

He started is own non-profit organization, “In a Heartbeat.”

“We donate AEDs, we provide CPR and AED training, write checks, and we’re starting our cardiac screening program in May where we’re going to be giving free EKGs to children, teens, and young adults throughout the state of Connecticut,” Papale said.

Papale is hoping through this screening program they can detect the conditions before someone needs CPR and an AED to survive.

Copyright 2019 WFSB (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.

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