How a Binghamton graduate turned a heart-stopping accident into advocacy

How a Binghamton graduate turned a heart-stopping accident into advocacy

When he was just 11 years old, Joe Mendrick’s heart stopped beating.

“I don’t remember that day at all,” Mendrick says. “All I know about that day is from what people told me.”

On April 16, 2012, Mendrick stepped to the plate to bat in his minor league game in Colonie, New York. The pitcher threw the ball and swung it. The baseball hit him in the chest.

What happened next can only be described as a statistical anomaly. Hitting him at just the right speed and at just the right moment during a very short window in his heart rhythm, the blow disrupted his heartbeat and sent him into a very sudden cardiac arrest, causing his heart to stop completely.

This condition, known as commutio cordis, is extremely rare, with fewer than a dozen new cases reported each year, according to the American Heart Association. This condition became widely known after Buffalo Bills football player Damar Hamlin suffered from the condition during a nationally televised game in January 2023.

Mendrake collapsed. His trainer immediately began performing CPR compressions. 911 was called. Others, including a police officer, began assisting with CPR until the ambulance arrived.

Fortunately, paramedics and EMTs were able to get Mendrake’s heart beating again.

“I was dead without a heartbeat for six minutes or so,” Mendrick says. “I’m so grateful to everyone who was there that day. They helped me survive.”

We’re back in the game

Mendrick doesn’t remember much from his week in the hospital, but an MRI brain scan was clear.

“It’s kind of funny – I was a Chris Brown fan at the time, so that was played on the speaker during the MRI. “I remember them playing that music,” he laughs.

Due to the lack of oxygen being transported to his brain during the accident, there was an initial fear that he would suffer brain damage. However, tests have shown that this is not the case.

“One way or another, there were no problems or complications at all,” he says. “I am very lucky.”

His family was by his side during his recovery. Mendrick says it was his father who inspired his love of baseball.

“He always tried to get me to watch baseball games when I was younger, but I could never get into it,” he says. “But then taking me to a Yankees game and being in that environment — it was kind of a life-changing experience.”

Mendrick decided not to let the accident stop him from playing baseball.

“I didn’t want it to scare me away from baseball, because it was a freak accident. There’s little chance of it happening to me again, and I didn’t think it was worth it to not play baseball anymore,” he says.

Mendryk would continue playing baseball until he graduated high school.

“I didn’t want it to scare me away from baseball, because it was a freak accident. There’s little chance of it happening to me again, and I didn’t think it was worth it to not play baseball anymore,” he says.

Mendryk would continue playing baseball until he graduated high school.

Step up to the plate

To say that Mendrick took an unfortunate event and turned it into a positive one is an understatement. He became an advocate for the American Heart Association (AHA), a nonprofit organization that funds research and educates the public about cardiovascular health.

“My gym teacher’s wife worked with the American Heart Association and thought my story could have a real impact,” Mendrick says. “So, he asked me in gym class if I would be interested in helping them, and we took it from there.”

Mendrick began helping at American Heart Association (AHA) events that helped educate others about the importance of CPR. He even helped set the Guinness World Record for the most people performing CPR consecutively at an event in Times Square. Celebrities like TV personality Starr Jones and WNBA player Tina Charles were in attendance.

“It was a marathon of people just lining up to perform CPR on a mannequin, and it went on for about eight hours,” he says. “The record was broken again shortly after, but it was a fun opportunity for us to train a group of people on how to perform CPR.”

Mendrick began lobbying for New York State to require high schools to provide hands-only CPR training to students. Whether it was speaking to lawmakers in Albany, New York, or sharing his story with news reporters, Mendrick was determined to help pass this requirement.

“I was in the room when the bill was eventually passed. “It only took a few minutes, and it was much faster than I expected,” he recalls. “It was a great day, and I’m very proud of the effort that went into making it happen.”

Mendrick hopes his calling, and the lives saved because of it, will be a lasting part of his legacy.

“I think a lot of people remember me because of the accident, but there is much more to it than that,” he says. “I would rather people remember me for what I did as a result of the accident.”

Extra roles

With an interest in financial markets, Mendrick came to Binghamton University’s School of Management to major in business administration with an emphasis in quantitative finance.

He earned a Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree from SOM, which he completed in May 2023.

“Binghamton is a great school,” he says. “There are a lot of different people here, and they all work hard. Everyone has goals, everyone has ambition, which is something I really appreciate because I have big ambitions myself.

Now a financial planning consultant in the Albany area, Mendrick hopes to one day break into investment banking in New York City.

While his baseball days are mostly over, Mendrick has taken up some new hobbies like golfing, snowboarding, and fishing. He also raised the level of chess.

“I’ve been playing chess since I was little, but I played a lot in college,” he says. “I worked on it and got good results.”

It’s been more than 11 years since the accident, and in that time, Mendrick has learned to put the magnitude of what happened to him into context.

“I was a different person back then. I was a kid, and it was hard to wrap my head around what happened. “Now, I can realize how serious the accident was and see the impact I had with the American Heart Association in passing hands-only CPR legislation. “And when I look at it now, I’m so proud.”

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