This Sunday, which would have been her son Matthew’s 20th birthday, Melinda Truax is missing the young man who wanted to follow his big brother to Western Washington University.
Matthew Truax didn’t get that chance.
He was a Meadowdale High School junior, five days shy of his 17th birthday, when he died of sudden cardiac arrest. Matthew was in PE class on Sept. 13, 2013. He collapsed while running on the Meadowdale track. His parents learned after his death that he had a condition that caused abnormal thickening of his heart muscle.
Melinda and Jerry Truax miss Matthew every day. September is especially hard. It’s a month of memories for the Edmonds couple, whose second boy was born Sept. 18, 1996. On Friday, they marked a different milestone. It grew from heartbreaking loss, but will help save lives.
At the Meadowdale track in Lynnwood on Friday afternoon, they celebrated the completion of the Heart of Edmonds School District &Community Heart Safe Project. With a goal of equipping every school and playfield in the Edmonds district with automatic external defibrillators (AEDs), the project was created by the Nick of Time Foundation in memory of Matthew Truax.
Through fundraising efforts large and small, including a $20,000 grant this year from the Hazel Miller Foundation, the project netted more than $100,000.
“It’s a blessing. We did it,” Melinda Truax said.
The project’s first phase was finished a year ago, in time for what would have been Matthew’s 19th birthday. “The first phase was all the Edmonds district high schools and the athletic fields,” Truax said. Because most district high schools are large and spread out, each will have six defibrillators, she said.
Truax has learned that if someone can get an AED to a victim of sudden cardiac arrest within two minutes, the chance of survival is significantly higher. “Matthew was shocked seven minutes after they got the call. It was too late,” she said.
Along with creating “Heart Safe Zones” in high schools and at fields, the aim was to place two AEDs at each middle school in the district and one at each elementary school. Truax said the $81,000 raised before getting the Hazel Miller Foundation grant wasn’t enough to equip elementary schools.
“They helped us get to the finish line,” Truax said of the foundation, which was established with a $12 million endowment after the 2009 death of longtime Edmonds resident Hazel Miller.
Truax said the project was supported by fire departments in Lynnwood, Snohomish and Shoreline. She especially credits the Nick of Time Foundation.
Its founder suffered a similar tragedy. Darla Varrenti, of Mill Creek, lost her 16-year-old son to sudden cardiac arrest. Nick Varrenti was a high school football player in Pennsylvania when he died in 2004.
The Nick of Time Foundation has worked with high schools and UW Medicine’s Dr. Jonathan Drezner, a sports medicine specialist, to offer heart screenings. A screening is scheduled for Nov. 2 at Kamiak High School in Mukilteo.
“None of this would have happened without the Nick of Time Foundation — had they not pulled me up from the floor and given me some kind of purpose,” Truax said.
With Varrenti and others, Truax testified in Olympia in favor of two bills championed by state Sen. Rosemary McAuliffe, a Bothell Democrat. The laws promote awareness of sudden cardiac arrest and require coaches and students to learn about CPR and AEDs. “We are two moms who lost our boys at the same age to the same condition,” Truax said.
The Edmonds mom, whose son, Michael, is a recent graduate of WWU, said Matthew wanted nothing more than to follow his brother to Bellingham.
“Growing up with a brother two and a half years older, everything Michael did, he did,” she said. That meant baseball with Pacific Little League, and playing select soccer. “He was going to Western just like his brother,” Truax said. Instead, her beloved Matthew left a lifesaving legacy. Every school in the Edmonds district will be equipped for helping in a hurry.
There was a critical reason for Friday’s celebration at the track. Truax shared what she wants everyone to know about AED devices:
“It’s not enough to put them in schools,” she said. “We want you to know how easy it is to use. Pull it off the wall if you need to. You cannot wait.”
Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Nick of Time Foundation will conduct heart screenings for teens and young adults ages 14-24 Nov. 2 at Kamiak High School, 10801 Harbour Pointe Blvd., Mukilteo. Results are reviewed by heart and sports-medicine specialists. Cost is a $25 donation to the foundation. Screenings begin at 9 a.m. Nov. 2. Sign-ups start two weeks earlier. Information: http://nickoftimefoundation.org/programs/screenings/