by Jim Boyle
Spectrum High School teacher Sharon Hall lost her grandpa Florian Nalezny to a heart condition, for all practical purposes in January 2001.
He suffered a stroke while having triple bypass heart surgery.
“He was never the same after that,” she told the Star News.
He died in less than a month later.
That has been in the back of her mind ever since starting to host American Heart Association events as a gym and health teacher — first at Kaleidoscope and now at Spectrum. As if the loss of her grandfather wasn’t enough, tragedy nearly struck two more times in the last few months. A 28-year-old friend of hers, Andrew Todd, gave her a scare when he suffered a heart attack this year at the end of January.
“At 28,” she repeated, still clearly impacted by the gravity of it all.
And back in December, it was a student of hers who gave her another reason to do everything she can to win the fight against heart disease.
Evan Emmel, a Spectrum High School student from Big Lake, was diagnosed with the heart condition this winter after collapsing at school one week before Christmas break.
It was Hall who caught Emmel, preventing him from hitting his head. Emmel had gotten woozy while watching a movie in biology and was on his way to the nurse.
Hall, who was on her second hour prep period, was in her room grading papers when she decided suddenly to pay a visit to the dean of students.
“I usually stay in my room,” she said.
When the paths of the two crossed in the hallway, Hall could tell something was wrong.
“I noticed the back of his neck was white,” she said.
The words “Evan, are you OK,” rolled off her tongue and his knees began to buckle.
As he crashed into the bank of lockers to his right, Hall caught him. She tended to him and hollered out for a 911 call to another staff member who heard the commotion and came out to see what was up.
Emmel remembers hearing Hall’s voice, and trying to respond.
He got off “No …” and then remembers “losing sight,” falling and crashing into the lockers.
“I didn’t even finish the sentence,” he said. “I was gasping for air, and my heart stopped momentarily.”
He woke up to questions. “Evan, are you OK? Stay with us.”
He passed out again.
Students and staff tended to him until an ambulance crew came.
Once at the hospital, doctors and hospital staff began a battery of tests. He was diagnosed with Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome, an abnormal heart condition that can cause the heart to beat very fast.
WPW patients have an extra electrical connection (pathway) between the top chambers of the heart (atria) and the bottom chambers of the heart (ventricles). This is known as an extra accessory pathway. It can cause the heart to short-circuit and beat very fast.
Symptoms include feeling your heart skip beats, dizziness, fainting and sudden death.
“I definitely have a bigger respect for doctors in this profession,” Emmel told the Star News. “My cardiologist was extremely helpful.”
Emmel was told he was not going to die. He has been instructed what to watch for and doctors are taking a wait-and-see approach.
Treatment can include radiofrequency destruction (ablation). This is where a thin flexible tube is inserted in the heart through a vein in the upper leg. The catheter is guided to the extra pathway and destroyed by burning the extra pathway closed.
Medication is an alternative, but is usually needed to be taken for the rest of the patient’s life.
After Emmel was taken to the hospital, there were tense moments for the staff.
Hall sensed he would be OK, but she worried because of the uncertainty of knowing what was wrong.
“I knew he was strong,” she said. “Both personality-wise and athletically. I knew he would bounce back.
Or did she?
Around the lunch hour they heard that he was indeed OK and was going to have some more tests run.
Upon returning to school after break, it was time to kick into high gear for American Heart Association Month. Hall had kind of forgotten about a conversation she had earlier in the year with Eric Stommes, a representative from American Heart Association. In it, she had explained to him she had a new job — one with older kids.
She had been at Kaleidoscope where she hosted Jump Rope for Heart for two years, and she got a new position at Spectrum Middle and High School.
“You’ll have to do Hoops for Hearts,” Hommes said.
Hall agreed but gave it little thought until it came time to prepare the event. It hit her suddenly — like a chest pain might — when it dawned on her that this event would not only memorialize her grandfather but honor her friend and a student now.
Hall, with the help of two service learning groups (Youth4Youth and H.A.L.O. service learning groups) and the rest of the student body rallied around the school’s efforts to raise money for the American Heart Association and raise awareness about fighting heart disease.
The school held a “Red Out” event at the Spectrum boys’ basketball game on Feb. 21. The efforts raised more than $1,400, Hall said.
David Borg was the top Hoops for Hearts fundraiser. He applied pie to the face of the Darrell Skoog, the school’s dean of students, after the Spectrum’s C-team game.
A Hoops for Heart phy ed shootout was held at the halftime of the JV game.
There were red and pink hearts on the walls of the gymnasium to memorialize many and honor others who have suffered with a heart condition or from a heart attack.
And before the start of the JV game Stommes honored Emmel with a plaque and gifts.
The crowd, a sea of red-shirted fans in the stands in the student section, roared for Emmel.
Emmel plays on the JV basketball team and some for the varsity team. He had been averaging 13 points a game before he collapsed, but he says his shooting hasn’t been the same since. His play has been more timid, less aggressive. “I’m a little more careful, I guess,” he said.
He managed to score eight points in his junior varsity game on Feb. 21.
At halftime of the varsity game, there was a Buck a Half-court Shot game to raise money for the heart association. Those who made a shot won a prize.
All who paid a buck helped the cause.
As Emmel works to restore his shooting game, students will have a visible reminder about the importance of heart health.
Hall, who didn’t need any reminders, will, too.
“I think the students who pulled this (fundraiser) off are going to be blown away,” Hall said, her passion for the cause strong as ever.