Woodbury man pumped to carry out heart-based mission
It would be fair to say defibrillators are near and dear to Dale Wakasugi’s heart.
The Woodbury man had a miniature version of the device implanted in his heart after sustaining sudden cardiac arrest in 2007 while refereeing a prep basketball game.
He was brought back from heart stoppage by an automated external defibrillator at the basketball gym and had the internal device implanted later in case the same thing ever happened again.
In November 2010, Wakasugi again found himself collapsed on the floor of a basketball gym during a game. This time, the implanted device did its job and immediately jolted his heart back to life.
After that, the pharmaceutical salesman made it his life’s mission to be sure AEDs were in as many public places as possible.
That effort made its way back to Woodbury, when Wakasugi – who sells AEDs as a side job – successfully got the hand-held devices installed at Kowalski’s Market. In addition to the flagship store in Woodbury, the family-owned chain had AEDs installed at its eight other locations as well.
“He’s just so passionate about it,” Jean Christensen, co-safety director for Kowalski’s, said of Wakasugi. “It hit home that he’s standing here because of it. It kind of tugged at our heartstrings, I guess.”
Wakasugi said the Kowalski’s project was a long time in the making for him. A frequent customer at the Woodbury location, he would walk into the store, see the hundreds of customers and ask himself what would happen if someone there dropped to the ground from sudden cardiac arrest, just as he had.
“Every time I’d go in there, I’d keep thinking, ‘We’ve got to get an AED in here,’” Wakasugi said.
True, a fleet of ambulances is parked just across the street at the Woodbury Public Safety Building, but Wakasugi said even the fastest response times can be potentially ineffective at saving a sudden cardiac arrest victim from permanent brain damage or death.
“The key is how quick you get the AED to them,” he said.
That’s a scenario he’s intimately familiar with.
The first time he “dropped,” as Wakasugi now refers to it, was while he refereed a game in Fridley. No warning. No symptoms. He was on the ground without a beating heart, unaware that an underlying heart disease had changed his life.
A student at the game attempted three rounds of CPR on him to no avail. Then someone arrived with an AED.
“One shock and here I am,” Wakasugi said.
Fast-forward about three years. While reffing a girls basketball game, he felt some strange symptoms, and then went down.
The internal AED kicked in after just a few seconds and “hits you with a big bolt of electricity.”
He knows he’s fortunate. All too often, Wakasugi said, sudden cardiac arrest patients don’t live to tell.
“I came back twice, which is just ridiculous,” he said.
Wakasugi likes to point out the distinction between sudden cardiac arrest and heart attacks.
“This is electrical – not plumbing,” he said, noting that while CPR can keep the heart pumping until an AED arrives, it takes the electrical device to re-engage the heart during sudden cardiac arrest.
The 2010 cardiac event brought an end to Wakasugi’s refereeing career, but gave birth to his “personal passion”: spreading awareness about the issue and working to save lives.
In addition to working closely with the city of Woodbury’s Take Heart program – a 2012 program that led to 10 percent of the city’s population being trained in hands-only CPR – Wakasugi also works exclusively with the Minnesota State High School League to provide AEDs.
He also works closely with the American Heart Association and is a member of the Minnesota Sudden Cardiac Arrest Survivors Network and the Minnesota Resuscitation Consortium.