Surviving the Big One: Facilities Manager Motivated to Coach a Team for Heart Walk

Facilities project manager Mike Mathis recalls the warm August afternoon two years ago when he was enjoying steamed crabs with family and friends by the pool at his in-laws’ home. It was a relaxing, carefree day that became a fleeting memory when he woke up the next morning with pain in his chest. Ignoring the significance of a family history of heart disease, the then 50-year-old Johns Hopkins Health System employee chalked up the discomfort to a bad case of acid reflux.

Eventually, as the pain worsened, his wife drove him to the emergency department of a local hospital.

Doctors found that Mathis had indeed suffered a “widow maker” heart attack, which his main artery, the left anterior descending, was totally blocked. But thanks to the persistent efforts of the medical team, which worked on him for more than 40 minutes, he survived the cardiac arrest.

After that harrowing experience, Mathis committed to supporting the annual American Heart Association (AHA) Greater Maryland Heart Walk. Last year, he walked and coached a team of 15 for the first time.

“We raised $900 last year. This year I’ve set a goal of $1,000 and would like to get close to $2,000,” he says. After all, if not for the care he received, he says, “I would not be here today.”

Mathis is one of dozens of employees on the front line recruiting their colleagues, family members and friends to contribute to the effort to fight cardiovascular disease. The Heart Walk, which takes place Oct. 12 at Camden Yards in Baltimore, is the AHA’s biggest fundraiser.

Johns Hopkins Hospital President Redonda Miller is the organization’s 2019 Heart Walk chair, and is responsible for helping the AHA raise $1.5 million through the contributions of local businesses and organizations. Johns Hopkins Medicine’s fundraising goal has nearly doubled this year to $150,000; The Johns Hopkins Hospital is aiming to raise $40,000.

“About 1 in 4 people will die from heart disease,” Miller, a physician, told a group of employees who attended a June 20 kickoff event for coaches. “Our support of the American Heart Association is for our patients. It is our mission to find a cure to prevent heart disease and to treat those who already have it. We’re grateful that, on the research side, AHA gives $16 million a year to fund the next cure in the lab and at the bedside.”

To encourage much-needed donations, Mathis shares his story and family history. His father died of a heart attack at age 45, a sister died of the same type of heart attack that Mathis had when she was 58, a brother suffered three heart attacks before age 60 and another brother had a quadruple bypass.

Since his near-fatal heart attack, Mathis has lived a healthier lifestyle. He’s dropped approximately 75 pounds and gone from a size 44 to a size 34 waist, helped by exercise, a low-sodium diet with managed portions and label reading.

“But more importantly,” Mathis advises, “know your family history and see your doctor.”

To sign up to be a coach, visit or contact Shereen Jahed at [email protected].

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