Family tragedies result in Gable Heart Beats Foundation
American Idol winner Lee DeWyze helps to raise awareness
Pleasanton wife and mother Michelle Gable was still reeling from the sudden death of her husband Michael from cardiac arrest on Sept. 17, 2009, when she noticed two weeks later that her baby daughter Grace's cough was worsening and took her to the emergency room. Doctors discovered that Grace was suffering from an enlarged heart, a potentially life-threatening situation.
Little Grace spent her first birthday fighting for her life in the intensive care unit, where she stayed for one month, and was subsequently diagnosed with dilated cardiomyopathy, or DCM. Her father Michael had died of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, or HCM.
"When she was admitted to ICU back in October 2009, she was in complete heart failure," Michelle said. "She has made a remarkable recovery, a true miracle in my book. For the past year and a half, she has been stable at an 85% heart working capacity."
Grace is now 3, and her brother Matteo will be 6 in March.
In response to these traumas, Michelle Gable and her friend Amy Mayo founded Gable Heart Beats Foundation to raise awareness of the heart disease. Their husbands were both in the San Francisco-based band, Segue, with Michael the singer and Stefan Mayo the guitarist and harmonica player.
"My husband Stefan wrote all the songs with Michael," Amy Mayo said. "The band was pretty devastated.
"Michelle tried to cope with Grace, and I had the idea, let's start a foundation. We knew Michael would want to save lives. And we wanted to honor him."
HCM, an excessive thickening of the heart muscle, is the No. 1 cause of sudden cardiac arrests in young athletes, said Mayo, and it also affects one out of 100,000 children.
Mayo, who serves as the foundation's executive director, was happy to announce in early February, which is American Heart Month, that Lee DeWyze, winner of American Idol Season Nine, starred in a promotional video now on www.gableheartbeats.org to draw people to hear their story and donate money.
DeWyze met with Amy and Michelle on the rooftop of the London West Hollywood Hotel to shoot the video in August, telling them that after hearing the story about Michael and Grace, and learning more about HCM, he jumped at the chance to help.
"We are thrilled and honored to welcome Lee DeWyze's contribution to our efforts," Mayo said late last week. "Yesterday the video got picked up by American Idol and it's being tweeted."
Donations benefit Gable Heart Beats' partners, Heartfelt Cardiac Projects and 44 for Life, which work to reduce the risk of sudden cardiac arrest. Heartfelt Cardiac Projects, based in southern California, hosts low-fee heart screenings worldwide; 44 for Life, based outside Philadelphia, donates defibrillators to schools in the United States.
Another fundraiser is sales of the album "One Race Human, a Tribute to Michael Gable," which was produced by Segue. The musicians also gave a concert at St. Mary's College in Moraga the first year to benefit the cause and are planning another one in November.
Mayo noted that Michael Gable was one of the few bi-racial students growing up in Monroe, Wash., and a soccer star who received a full athletic scholarship to St. Mary's, where he met Michelle, also a soccer player, who graduated from Foothill High.
HCM is responsible for 40% of cardiac deaths in athletes, according to www.gableheartbeats.org. It affects people of all ages, gender and ethnicity, plus research has shown that 50% of HCM deaths are African American males.
Although Michael and Grace didn't have the same cardiomyopathy, they were related and hereditary. Matteo has been tested and is negative. Those who test positive should see their cardiologists annually, and it is often possible to improve the condition with medications, as in Grace's case, said Michelle.
"Genetic testing is so important," she said. "We found out (with Michael) when it was too late. We had no idea he even had a heart condition. It happened suddenly, tragically."
"I keep praying that my kids stay healthy and I stay healthy," Michelle added. "I'm living out the dreams that Michael had -- raising the children here in Pleasanton was his dream."
Signs of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM)
* Shortness of breath
* Heart palpitations
* Unexplained fatigue
* Chest pain or pressure
Also research your medical history for sudden or unexpected deaths before the age of 55.
--Gable Heart Beats Foundation