WALLINGFORD, Conn. (WTNH) — A Connecticut basketball coach who survived a heart attack as a teen has started a foundation to save lives.

If you think a pandemic would stop Mike Papale from his mission, you probably don’t know the Wallingford native who survived cardiac arrest at 17-years-old.

The gym has been Papale’s haven. First as a basketball star at both Xavier and Sheehan High Schools before entering the coaching ranks.

In 2006, Papale went into cardiac arrest while at the Wallingford Parks and Rec. Fortunately, a volunteer fireman/EMT, Bob Huebner, saved his life.

In 2016, Papale founded In a Heartbeat Foundation. The mission: to prevent death from hypertrophic cardiomyopathy and sudden cardiac arrest.

“It’s my passion in life. I kinda joke it’s like my baby. I watch it grow, and I’m watching it expand and mature,” Papale told News 8.

Papale has traveled the country as a motivational speaker and to donate life-saving defibrillators.

“We’ve gotten back to donating AEDs [automated external defibrillators]. We donated about five AEDs in the last month. We’ve got a few more going in the next few weeks,” Papale added.

All told, his foundation has distributed 131 defibrillators. Most of them to gyms, youth organizations, and Boys and Girls Clubs.

“Of course it’s not ideal like doing it in person and giving people the opportunity to practice on a mannequin, but still, they leave these sessions with the knowledge that they may need to save somebody they love,” Papale explained.

He told News 8 he never knew creating the foundation and doing the work he does would be so impactful and satisfying.

“It’s just the most gratifying thing that I could ever do. I think, so many people spend their life trying to find the purpose. Mine was handed to me at age 17,” he said.

Papale was part of the men’s basketball staff at Quinnipiac University and was Scott Burrell’s top assistant at Southern Connecticut State University. Currently, he’s the boys’ basketball head coach at Fairfield Prep.

Before the pandemic ended the most recent basketball season abruptly, the Jesuits won a tournament game.

“How many kids get to win their last game? Most seasons do end losing in a tournament game, and most careers end that way, as well. I think that’s healthy,” Papale said, always finding a way to turn a negative into a positive.