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From Rachel Moyer

Automatic External Defibrillators: Tragedy Prompts One Mom's Mission

Christening A New Gym

It was the evening of December 2, 2000. My 15 year-old son, Greg, was playing basketball for Notre Dame High School against cross-town rival East Stroudsburg North High School in rural Pike County, Pennsylvania. It was the very first game in the school's brand new multi-million dollar gymnasium. Befitting the occasion, the game was on local television.

A strong, apparently healthy, 6-foot-3, 220-pound, Greg was a nervous tenth grade honor student at Notre Dame, playing in just his second varsity game. He got approximately ten minutes of playing time in the first half and performed well, sinking one of two foul shots. Walking off the court to the locker room, Greg was smiling. He exuded confidence.

Frantic efforts

Two minutes later, a teammate and friend, ran out into the gym looking for my husband, John, and me. I remember thinking that maybe Greg had broken his hand or his arm. We were told, however, that Greg was hurt; that he had fallen off the bench in the locker room. Although, as it turned out, Greg had suffered sudden cardiac arrest, no one initially believed the situation was life threatening. I remember, as if it was yesterday, seeing my handsome son on the floor and then holding his head in my hands. His father was on the other side of him, I said, "breathe, Gregory, breathe!" He then tried to open his eyes and take a gasp of air but just couldn't do it. The people who were supposedly in charge did not start CPR right away because they thought Greg had a pulse. It was not until I started yelling that he was not breathing that CPR was started. It was all just a mess. Unfortunately, with all the money that was spent on the new school, it was not equipped to handle a medical emergency.

Two ambulances were eventually dispatched after calling 911. However, it took more than thirty minutes from the time Greg collapsed until a defibrillator was available.

Greg's heart stopped beating on the way to the hospital, and again the AED was used to try to get it going. He had arrived at the hospital without a heartbeat and even though the emergency room staff worked so long and hard to revive our son, Gregory did not make it. Greg was a kid who was never sick; all he ever had suffered was a broken finger. We later learned that Greg had hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (enlarged heart walls). He had never shown any signs of this illness and had three sports physicals a year.

One of the nurses at the hospital, who was a friend and who had treated Greg in the ER, suggested we do something about getting AEDs into our schools. She said Greg's death may not have happened if an AED had been available on site. That very night we established the Gregory W. Moyer Defibrillator Fund. On Tuesday morning, the day of Greg's funeral, we had already received enough donations to buy seven AEDs, one for each high school in the county and two extras.

The fund began to grow and in a little more than a year since Greg's death, we have raised over $140,000 (with a big boost from the Masons, who had decided that getting AEDs into public places would be its yearly cause and donated $35,000). With the money, we have been able to donate close to 40 AEDs to schools, fire companies and ambulance corps, as well as a YMCA, a library and several parks. We have also been able to help local churches, businesses and medical groups purchase another 70 AEDs at special discounted rates (they cost about $3,900 at retail).

First in the nation law

In addition, we had the good fortune of being close friends with our newly elected State Representative, Kelly Lewis. He sponsored a bill in the Pennsylvania legislature to provide every school district in the state with two free AEDS, plus an additional one for their Vocational-Tech Center and another one for their Intermediate Units that provide for children with special needs. School districts may also buy additional AEDs at the state-contracted price, which is fantastic.

We believe that Pennsylvania is the first state in the country to have such a fabulous AED law for our schools. The bill was the fastest bill ever passed into law in Pennsylvania's legislative history. It was also introduced and passed unanimously in the House on what should have been Greg's 16th birthday. We are presently working with other families and legislators in a number of states to try to get the same law passed in their states, including Karen Acompora, who, after losing her son, Louis, to commotio cordis because an AED wasn't available at his high school lacrosse game, is working with her state legislator in New York to get an AED bill passed there.

My husband and I have received certification to train people in CPR and the use of AEDs and, in the past six months, have trained and certified over 600 people. I have also been to Washington to lobby Senators Kennedy and First about their AED bill, which would provide over $55 million dollars per year for five years for the purchase of AEDs and training and education throughout the United States. Our goal is get an AED for every public school and any place that the public gathers, and for AEDs to become a national issue as is necessary if we want to save lives. Knowing that families can be saved from going through the pain we have suffered this past year makes it all worth the effort. Even though Greg is no longer with us, his spirit has guided us through the most difficult of times.

Rachel Moyer teaches special ed to fifth-graders in Port Jervis, New York.

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