“I can’t help my son, but I can help yours” -Joe Lemel
I had just finished watching Mr. Lemel speak about his beautiful boy Adam and had held it together pretty well. I was sitting at work and watching the short 3 minute video clip on the Project ADAM website while charting in between patients, hoping to get to know Adam a bit better. I was in work mode: professional, composed and taking notes so I could write our first Project ADAM blog. And then I heard those words above spoken by Joe and it was like a sucker punch to the gut. My eyes welled up and I couldn’t speak when our echo tech came in to my office to ask me a question. It’s an impossible task really- to write about an amazing young man, perched on the threshold of the rest of his life, ready to take on the world. A gifted athlete and a driven student, a 17 year old boy I had never met but who inspired a program that I have come to love and have spent countless hours trying to get started in New York. What gave Mr. Lemel and his family the strength to turn their grief into a gift so that others may be able to have their loved ones survive a cardiac arrest? It has to be love. And also the recognition that, as Mr. Lemel so succinctly explained it, “Adam’s life could not end at the funeral.”
Adam grew up in Whitefish Bay, Wisconsin, the third of four boys with the line-up being: David, Dan, Adam and Jesse. They were all born within 5 years of each other. I laugh when I think of what that must have been like for his parents in those initial early years. Probably happy chaos but wow, that’s a lot of diapers. The boys made friends wherever they went, whether at the beach, the slopes or in their own neighborhood. All four boys were active in sports but Adam was the stand-out athlete. I’m sure a lot of it was natural ability but Adam didn’t seem to take that gift for granted. He was driven to keep pushing himself to be better. Even as young as five years old, Adam could be found in the driveway practicing his free throws in the basketball hoop late into the evening, much to the neighbors chagrin. Can you see him there on a warm mid-western night, all four feet of him, looking up at the net twice his height? Can you hear the twangy sound of the ball hitting the pavement, the swish of the net?
Adam and his brothers attended a small private school until high school. Despite the fact that Whitefish Bay High School was considerably larger than the K-8th grade school that they had been used to, the boys thrived. Adam had been involved in many sports growing up but he settled on two on which to focus: basketball and tennis. He excelled in both sports, playing varsity as a freshman and winning state championships. His brother Dave said that he stayed humble but Adam must have known that he was a great athlete. I think there’s proof of that in the story that Mr. Lemel shared with me while we were speaking on the phone recently. Adam was so gifted that he could beat his opponent on the tennis court playing lefty. I would have liked to have seen that mischievous smile on his face when his competitor realized that Adam was playing with his non-dominant hand. Speaking of smiles, please check out some of the pictures and video of Adam on the website. Whether he’s sitting in the sand or snow, holding a trophy as a teenager or eating birthday cake as a toddler- you can see his engaging smile right there in his eyes and on his face. I bet he would have made an amazing physician. His older brother Dave emailed to say he had often spoke of pursuing a career in medicine. Of course, I like to think of him as a pediatric cardiologist, reassuring the parents and putting little kids to ease with just his very presence and that heart-warming smile. But alas, Adam mainly thought of becoming a surgeon. He was an excellent student and planned on applying to Duke, home of his favorite collegiate basketball team. I picture his father standing in the doorway, watching Adam lying on his belly on the living room floor with his face propped up in his hands, the game on TV, mesmerized by the Blue Devils. As a parent (and sometime hockey coach for my daughter’s team), I can imagine the pride Mr. Lemel must have felt watching his son excel at school or on the basketball court. I would have liked to have been a fly on the wall during family dinners, hearing the banter and watching the piles of food disappear. These moments with his family and innumerable others made Adam who he was and who he was becoming.
In the future this blog will provide you with information about sudden cardiac arrest and updates about Project ADAM as well as ways that you can get involved. Most importantly, however, we are here to save lives and serve our communities in the name of Adam. It is his spirit of drive and dedication that inspires us all to do the work that we do. Adam wanted to “live a life that he could be proud of.” We hope that we are making him proud.
Christa Miliaresis, MD, FAAP, FACC
NYMC Department of Pediatrics, Maria Fareri Children's Hospital, Medical Director, New York Affiliate of Project ADAM