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Near-Death Experience Inspires Westport Teen

WESTPORT, Conn. — Knowing CPR can mean the difference between life and death. Just ask Westport student Harrison Malec, whose life was saved in part by CPR when his heart stopped beating during a late-summer workout.

Harrison, a rower at Saugatuck Rowing Club, was running with teammates Sept. 14 when he suddenly collapsed.

"It was a normal day," the 14-year-old Staples freshman said. "I didn't feel any different than usual. I can't describe what happened — I don't remember anything."

But as Harrison later learned, his teammate, Will Cromwell of New Canaan, immediately started CPR when he saw that Harrison wasn't breathing. At the same time, the coaches called 911. Within two minutes, Westport Emergency Medical Service and Westport police arrived.

"We've gone through the 'what-ifs' in our minds and we're thankful beyond belief," said Harrison's dad, Mark. "Sept. 14 was a nice day, and normally, they would have been out on the water. And if the people present were not as aware as they were, if Will didn't start CPR when he did, and if the EMS didn't arrive as quickly as they did, the outcome wouldn't have been successful."

When EMS arrived, Harrison's heart was defibrillated back to life and he was rushed to Norwalk Hospital. He was later airlifted to Yale-New Haven Hospital, where a team of cardiologists identified the problem: Harrison had a rare, undiagnosed abnormality in his left coronary artery, Mark Malec said.

The following Tuesday, Harrison underwent open-heart surgery. He was out of school for a month and has since recovered from the surgery.

Being a dedicated athlete, Harrison's first question post-surgery was, "When can I row?" However, the family is not sure yet whether his heart has fully recovered, said mom Joelle. A series of tests to help determine that are planned for the near future, she said.

Knowing that the outcome could have been tragic, the Malecs — who moved to Westport this summer — want to raise awareness about the importance of learning CPR. Harrison said the family hopes to set up a charity that will enable Westport EMS to go to different Westport businesses, such as Saugatuck Rowing Club, and offer CPR training.

"If we can raise awareness and give people something they can use to save lives, that'll be the good of this," Harrison said.

Recently, the Westport office of William Raveis Realty, where Joelle Malec works, presented Westport EMS with a check and a plaque on behalf of the family.

On top of wanting to spread awareness, Harrison said the experience has inspired him to want to get involved with the Westport EMS explorer program, where high school students gain hands-on EMS experience.

Westport EMS currently offers residents free CPR training. For more information on classes, visit Westport EMS online or call 203-341-6030.

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