AJ’s guardian angel

On any normal day, Joey Jakubowski is a typical 8th grader, studying and running track for St. Vincent de Paul. But when his grandfather, AJ Barile, suffered a cardiac episode at the wheel after picking him up from practice after school, Joey became a bit of a superhero.

AJ was taking his grandson home when he passed out at a light near Washington Center and Coldwater roads. "It wasn't very much panic," Joey said of his reaction. "I was just hoping my grandpa would be okay so I thought fast." Joey climbed over to his grandfather’s side of his F-150 truck and put his foot on the brake to keep them from rolling into the intersection.

"I had a dizzy spell," AJ, who hadn’t been showing any signs of illness prior to the incident, said. "I didn't even have time to react to it. That's the last thing I remember."

AJ was in cardiac arrest. Joey called 911 and was already on the phone with dispatch when AJ came around a few seconds later. "He was calm as a cucumber," AJ said.

When the phone rang at Joey’s mother Nan’s house, her reaction was not quite as even as her son’s. “I picked up the phone and he said, ‘Mom,’ and I said, ‘Yeah, Joey,’” Nan recalled. “And he told me that there had been an incident but they were in the ambulance and I should have my brother come pick me up so we could meet them at the hospital. He was so calm. I was the one freaking out!”

AJ was taken to the Parkview Heart Institute, where he received a pacemaker within 24 hours. His syncopal event, or loss of consciousness, along with an abnormal EKG, led the physicians on call to a diagnosis. “He had a lot of delay in the signal from the top to the bottom part of the heart,” Bradley Hardin, MD, PPG – Cardiology said. “Mechanically, his heart was working well, but electrically it was very sluggish. He had a slow heartbeat and no heartbeat during the syncope event."

About 200k people have sudden death every year, often from ventricle fibrillation, a condition in which the heart pumps too fast, too slow, or the patient experiences asystole which is no heart rate at all. Based on the EKG and additional testing, it was confirmed that AJ was experiencing a Trifascicular block.

“There are three pathways for the electrical system to go from the middle portion of the heart to the bottom of the heart. If you have damage to all three, you lose conduction and have a heart block which can lead to no heartbeat, syncope and sudden death.” Dr. Hardin explained. “We evaluated AJ with an EKG, had blood drawn to rule out heart attack and an echo cardiogram to see if he was effectively pumping blood. His was a good, strong and pumping heart. He just had a slow heartbeat and no heartbeat with his syncopal event. The pacemaker will prevent his heart from developing a complete heart block. We put one lead in the top chamber of his heart, and the other in the bottom right chamber. Now there’s no disruption to the electrical signal.”

How fortunate was AJ? "Very. The sooner you can stabilize a patient, the sooner EMS can be summoned, the better the chance the patient has of surviving," Dr. Hardin said. "In his case he was very lucky."

 “Dr. Hardin and the entire staff, everybody at Parkview, was amazing,” Nan said.

"Once we put the pacemaker in we talked to his family. I think there were at least a dozen in the room," Dr. Hardin said. "He's very well loved."

That family now refers to Joey as AJ’s guardian angel for his bravery that day. “He said he just knew what to do,” Nan said. “He’s a good kid and, I’ll tell ya, it made my month.”

"I was very thankful I was there, and was able to do what I could," Joey said.

Dr. Hardin said a healthy lifestyle, including no smoking, eating well and exercising can decrease your chances of cardiac distress. However, things like dizziness, chest pain and tightness should never go unchecked.

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