Chris McLachlin's Story

Updated:Aug 11,2015
A stroke could have devastated retired high school teacher and basketball coach Chris McLachlin’s life.

Instead, he’s become a passionate American Heart Association volunteer whose efforts to improve the nation’s systems of care and increase medical research landed him in the office of his most famous former player: President Barack Obama.

Obama was a senior on Honolulu Punahou School’s 1979 state championship team that McLachlin coached. So naturally, it was the basketball court where plans for their meeting 30 years later started to take shape. 

During an Obama family vacation in Hawaii after the election, the president joined other former Punahou players for a pickup game. At one point during a break in the action, Obama came to the sideline – where McLachlin was of course serving as
coach – and asked about his health.

Obama had heard about the stroke McLachlin suffered the year before, and he invited his former coach to come visit him in Washington.

“He was very caring and showed a lot of interest in learning more about what had happened to me,” McLachlin said.

Soon after, McLachlin was recruited to become a member of the American Heart Association’s You’re the Cure grassroots advocacy network. 

“As a stroke survivor, I’ve learned that not everyone who has a stroke has as good an outcome as I did,” said McLachlin, who received a clot-busting drug after his stroke that reversed the paralysis. “Many more could if we can improve the systems of care and advance the research on treatments. I want to help share that message with our leaders and with the public to make those improvements happen.”

When McLachlin was invited to attend the American Heart Association’s 2009 Lobby Day, he also arranged a visit with Obama.

“Barack was very happy to see me, and as soon as I entered the Oval Office he came over, gave me a big hug and asked, ‘How are you doing coach?’ ” McLachlin said.

McLachlin shared information with the president about disparities in the National Institutes of Health’s cardiovascular disease research funding. He also spoke about the AHA’s efforts to pass the Heart For Women Act to increase women’s understanding of their risks of cardiovascular disease. And he shared his personal story about his recovery from stroke and the need for increased research and education about heart disease.

“The president showed great interest in the AHA’s work,” said McLachlin, who discussed with Obama the fact that only 4 percent of NIH research is focused on heart disease, despite the fact that it’s the  No. 1 killer of Americans. 

McLaughlin said he was inspired and motivated by the survivors’ passion at Lobby Day.

“I have no doubt that the AHA’s dedicated volunteers and staff are going to make great strides in reducing cardiovascular diseases and improving lives,” he said.

Donate today to help people like Chris or get involved with one of our many causes, like Go Red For Women, Start! Heart Walk or Power To End Stroke.