It happened without warning.
On a Friday morning in February 2010, Michael Vincent Sage, of Guilford, arrived at work. The young attorney and Quinnipiac alum poured himself a cup of coffee, chatted with co-workers, walked to the bathroom and suddenly collapsed.
“It was basically like a light switch, you know. He just dropped dead, essentially,” his widow, Azadeh Rezvani, recalled.
A lifelong athlete, Sage had no history of cardiac issues. He played baseball and basketball in Hamden, football and lacrosse at Cheshire Academy, and was training for his first half marathon.
An autopsy later revealed the cause of death to be sudden cardiac arrest (SCA). The family would undergo genetic testing to search for any known risk factors, but none were found.
His co-workers had tried to save him with CPR, but the one thing that could have saved his life wasn’t available – an automated external defibrillator, or AED.
“They’re 90 percent effective within the first minute someone collapses,” Rezvani explained. “With every passing minute that chance of survival decreases.”
SCA is a leading cause of death, claiming more than 300,000 lives a year in the United States, according to the American Heart Association. It affects all ages, including young athletes like 14-year-old Andrew Pena, of Darien, who died from SCA while training on a treadmill in 2011.
Different from a heart attack, which can be thought of as a “plumbing” issue in the heart, SCA is essentially a disruption in the “electrical” impulses of the heart, often with no prior symptoms. CPR can buy some time, but only an AED can shock the heart back into rhythm if administered swiftly.
With that in mind, Sage’s family formed a foundation in his memory in 2013. To date, the Michael Vincent Sage Dragonheart* Foundation has donated almost 200 AEDs to public places across the country, including more than 100 Connecticut schools.
One of them is West Hartford’s Saint Brigid-Saint Augustine Partnership School, where Principal Rebecca Goddard said every staff members gets trained in the use of the AEDs. That’s above and beyond the minimum of two trained school staff members required by Connecticut statute.
“I’m hoping that we never have to use it and we’re praying on that of course but it’s just wonderful that it’s there in case we do,” said Goddard.
Rezvani, an attorney practicing in the medical field, said in addition to having simple auditory instructions that make them easy for anyone to use, AEDs are safe, and state Good Samaritan law protects any user from liability.
“You cannot hurt someone with an AED. They will only shock someone suffering from fibrillation or tachycardia,” she said.
State law also requires every school to have an AED, but only if “funding is available.” If cash-strapped school districts don’t have money in the budget, the law allows them to accept donations for the equipment and training.
Terri LeDuc, a nurse at Saint Brigid-Saint Augustine School, said one in 300 youth have a condition that puts them at risk for SCA. Although many cases occur without prior symptoms, LeDuc said occasionally there are some signs parents and coaches can watch out for.
“If any student faints or has near fainting experience or seizure-like activity, especially during or after activity, that’s a big red flag,” LeDuc said.
If concerning symptoms arise, LeDuc said, parents should advocate for their children by asking their doctor for cardiac testing, something that wouldn’t be offered routinely.
Rezvani wants parents to know they can ask their child’s school if they have an AED. If they don’t, she said, the Michael Vincent Sage Dragonheat Foundation welcomes applications for donations. An online form can be found here.
Michael’s family and friends read the following parable, written to explain death to young children, shortly after his passing. Though intended to be simple in its content, the story served a much deeper meaning for those whom knew Michael best. So much so that when it was decided to form a non-profit in his memory, the name “Dragonheart” seemed wholly appropriate. After all, Michael will always be the dragonfly whose heart serves our mission.
Waterbugs & Dragonflies
The story begins with a colony of waterbugs who spend their days scurrying around in the mud at the bottom of a pond. Every now and then, a water bug would climb up the stem of a lily pad and disappear from sight. The waterbugs agreed that the next one to make that journey would return to tell the others where he or she had gone.
But when the next waterbug climbed up the lily stalk and broke through the surface of the water, she was amazed at what she saw! Her body had changed, so now she had four silver wings, and a long tail! She was a Dragonfly!
She began to fly, swooping and diving with glee through the air, the bright sunshine warming her new body. Then she remembered her promise to return to her friends. She could see them at the bottom of the pond, but when she darted down towards them, she bounced off the water’s surface.
Now that she was a Dragonfly, she could no longer go into the water. At first, she was dismayed, but then she understood that her friends would all one day join her. They would then soar happily together in the awesome and colorful new world of air and sunshine.
In our waterbug world, we grieve the loss of our loved one who seem to disappear from our sight. Let us hold onto the message of the Dragonfly who gives us a glimpse of the wonder of life everlasting.