Salpointe High School student-athletes with an automatic external defibrillator that was donated by the Steven M. Gootter Foundation.

Manuel Gadea is proof that an automated external defibrillator can not only jump-start your heart, but save your life.

“I am a case study for the importance of an automated external defibrillator. If it hadn’t been for that little machine, I wouldn’t be alive today. You hope you never need to use one, but if you do, it is a lifesaver. I believe strongly in the Steven M. Gootter Foundation’s efforts to distribute defibrillators in the community,” said Gadea, 62, who learned firsthand the importance of the device on March 13, 2017.

The real estate developer and owner of Leximar LLC was talking with tenants at one of his properties when he suddenly lost consciousness and collapsed.

One of the tenants called 911 while another began administering CPR. A third, who happens to be a former emergency medical technician, realized that Gadea’s heart had stopped and ran into the office for the AED that is kept on site.

“They are a company of mining engineers with about 40 employees — some over the age of 50 — and it was company policy to have an AED. It was very smart of them — unfortunately I can’t take credit for it — and it was a blessing for me. Clearly they used it very effectively and it saved my heart,” Gadea said.

Gadea said the machine proved so effective — in combination with treatment by the EMTs with the Golder Ranch Fire District and care from the medical staff and surgeons at Oro Valley Hospital — that imaging scans show his heart sustained no permanent damage.

“My MRI is being used as a case study by a cardiac radiologist who says that the prompt intervention saved my heart: It came out unscathed, which is very unusual. Even with a mild heart attack, there is some scarring or at least minimal damage to the heart, and I have none.

“He thinks it proves that quick use of a defibrillator can save not only someone’s life but the long-term state of the heart,” said Gadea, an athlete who had no history of heart disease, high cholesterol or health problems — much like Gootter when he succumbed to sudden cardiac death while on a run in 2005.

The irony is not lost on Gadea, a friend and squash partner of Gootter’s.

“He was a tennis player, but he loved playing squash. He enjoyed the speed and intensity of the game. He was a remarkable person, and I think he would be very proud of his loving, close-knit family and all that they have accomplished,” said Gadea.

The Gootter Foundation AED Donation program reached a milestone last year, with donations exceeding 250 AEDs to nonprofits, recreation centers, schools, sports programs, churches and locations where people “work, worship and play,” as well as to patrol cars with the Tucson Police Department, the Pima County Sheriff’s Department and the Marana Police Department.

“Stories like Manuel’s really demonstrate the importance of education on chest-compression-only CPR and on the difference that having AEDs readily available can make,” said Andrew Messing, president of the foundation.

Foundation research initiatives — which have now topped $4 million in funding — also hit several landmarks in the last year, according to Messing.

Dr. Jil C. Tardiff, the Steven M. Gootter Endowed Chair for the Prevention of Sudden Cardiac Death for UA Sarver Heart Center, recently learned that she will receive $2 million over four years from the National Institutes of Health to develop new techniques for treating hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a form of sudden cardiac death.

“All the data that was used in support of her grant application for the NIH was funded by $2 million from the Gootter Endowment, so that is pretty cool. It is like a double whammy, since now she will receive an additional $2 million from the NIH. We love to hear that the funds we dedicate are leveraged and can create additional funding for more research in this area,” Messing said.

Messing is particularly excited about the recent funding of a $25,000 Investigator Award to Dr. Michael Grandner, director of the Sleep and Health Research Program at the UA College of Medicine.

Grandner will examine data from more than 800,000 U.S. adults to explore the relationship between sleep duration and risk factors for sudden cardiac death; a second part of the study will focus on student athletes at UA to examine baseline sleep disturbances and the potential for sudden cardiac death risk in elite athletes.

“This is a collaboration with TMC, and it is very exciting to see the community come together to develop the first-ever study of sleep and circadian factors relative to sudden cardiac death outside of traditional behavioral risk factors. We are really excited about these studies.

“So many people complain about insufficient sleep and poor quality of sleep, and if it turns out there is a correlation between those and sudden cardiac death and heart disease, that really needs to be studied,” Messing said.

Messing emphasized the innovative research is indicative of the foundation’s fresh approach toward ending sudden cardiac death. In addition to transformative scientific research and the distribution of AEDs, the multi-pronged philosophy advocates awareness and education about new protocols for CPR (check, call, compress) and programs such as PulsePoint, a free mobile phone application that alerts users about emergency dispatches to increase the possibility that those experiencing a cardiac incident will receive assistance from someone trained in CPR and the use of defibrillators.

Messing credits the success of the home-grown foundation to the insightful efforts of businesses, individuals and other donors and the visionary leadership of board members and advisors such as businessman Fletcher McCusker, who will receive the 2018 Philanthropy Award at the upcoming Gootter Grand Slam Gala on March 2.

“Fletcher is one of the most philanthropic individuals I know in Tucson: He has been responsible for a lot of the revitalization we are seeing downtown and is not only a very successful entrepreneur but is involved in multiple nonprofits that give so much back to our city,” Messing said.

“We have been so fortunate to have the support of brilliant people like him and so many other generous people in the community who understand that a tragic event like sudden cardiac death can happen to anyone — and that we can help to stop it.”

Contact freelance writer Loni Nannini at ninch2@comcast.net