On Thursday, Matthew McAulay will make a phone call to an old friend, Kathy Kuras, who lives in Chicago. They'll catch up and talk about when they both worked at the Lake Norman YMCA.
McAulay calls Kuras every Sept. 2. That's the date in 2006 when Kuras helped save his life.
A part-time sports official at the time, McAulay suffered what was called a "sudden cardiac death" during a pickup soccer game at the YMCA. Kuras was one of the Y staffers who helped administer CPR and shock McAulay with an automated external defibrillator to keep him alive until the ambulance arrived.
Now sports director at the Lake Norman Y, McAulay, 28, gives credit to its life-saving education program. He shares his personal experience with students he now instructs in his own CPR/First Aid/AED classes.
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'Thankful I'm still here'
McAulay had his life-changing experience on a Saturday morning four years ago. A UNCChapel Hill graduate and a physically active young man, he and some friends had planned to travel to Raleigh that evening to see the season-opening football game between Appalachian State and N.C. State.
The only things McAulay remembers about the day are "throwing my gear together, running up the hill (at the Y) and saying there were a lot of guys there" to play in the pickup soccer games.
McAulay had started having dizzy spells when he was a student at North Mecklenburg High School. Around 2003-04, he passed out during a pickup basketball game and, for the first time, sought medical attention because of it.
His cardiologist told McAulay he had no idea why the episode occurred and that he shouldn't worry about it.
As he warmed up for the 2006 soccer game at the Y, McAulay told friend Laura Ferguson he was feeling dizzy and was going to sit down. Twenty minutes later, when Ferguson checked on him, McAulay didn't respond; then his eyes rolled back and he collapsed to his side.
Staffer Jill Cashion ran to McAulay's side with the AED from inside the Y. Kuras and swimming pool lifeguard Rick Mosley performed life-saving techniques before EMS arrived. Paramedics rushed him to the hospital.
Doctors induced a coma in McAulay while they monitored his condition and performed tests. They concluded that McAulay's "sudden cardiac death" was caused by his heart's excessive arrhythmia.
McAulay remembers waking up a couple of days later and being discharged a couple of days after that.
"I had people tell me I shouldn't be alive," McAulay said. "I wondered why I still was alive. I'm a firm believer that God had me in the right place, and I'm thankful I'm still here."
Story with a happy ending
Doctors inserted an internal defibrillator into McAulay's body. It occasionally shocks his heart back into rhythm, and he takes anti-arrhythmia medication every day. In January 2007, McAulay was promoted to full-time sports director at the Y.
Six months after his episode, McAulay was permitted to resume his physically active lifestyle. While basketball and soccer are still too physically demanding and risky for him, McAulay is active in YMCA and church softball leagues and regularly bikes and walks a treadmill.
For the past two years, McAulay has taught life-saving classes to other YMCA staffers and the public. He often opens his classes with a quick story about a young man who nearly died and how Y employees saved his life. He waits until the end of the class to share that he is the young man in the story.
"The only reason I can tell the story is because I am not the hero," McAulay said. "This is Kathy and Rick's story."