Monday, November 18, 2002

Device Pays Off Again Defibrillator helps save life of Brightwaters man at ballgame

By Erik Holm
November 18, 2002

When his doctor walked into the emergency room a few hours after John Tierney's heart stopped on Saturday night, he took one look at his patient and pronounced him blessed.

"You're a very lucky man,” the doctor said.

Tierney, who suffered the heart attack in the stands moments before the kickoff of a high school playoff game between Locust Valley and Seaford, was revived by a defibrillator that had been on the sidelines.

The heart-starting device was there, in part, because of the efforts of one Northport couple, who believe a defibrillator could have saved their 14-year-old son, Louis Acompora, who died after being struck on the chest while playing lacrosse in 2000.

Defibrillators will be required at every high school sporting event in New York State beginning Dec. 1, thanks to a new state law the Acomporas had pushed for. But the Locust Valley school district and parents' groups had purchased their district's defibrillators more than two years ago, not long after Louis Acompora's death.

When he heard about Tierney late Saturday night, Louis' father, John Acompora, said he "got goose bumps.”

"It's extremely gratifying. This is exactly the sort of thing we've been telling people,” he said yesterday. "The people who could be saved by this are teachers, janitors, parents, anyone at the event.”

Tierney, 61, an attorney from Brightwaters, was listed in critical but stable condition yesterday. But family members said that he is well on the way to recovery and would likely be moved out of the critical care unit today.

Tierney had lived with an irregular heartbeat for years without incident and had stents put in his heart in the past year as a preventive measure.

Between cracking jokes about his health and his luck yesterday, said his wife, Cecilia Tierney, Tierney was expressing amazement over the trainer, the doctors and the firefighter who happened to be on the sidelines at Hofstra University's stadium, where the playoff game was being held.

He was amazed, too, that there was a defibrillator on hand, thanks to the efforts of Locust Valley school administrators, boosters and the Acomporas.

"Good things come from tragedy sometimes,” Cecilia Tierney said. "He just can't believe there are so many good people in the world . . .”

Tierney is not the first on Long Island to be saved because of the efforts by the Acomporas to make defibrillators more widely available.

Among those who have been helped is Muhammad Shah of Nesconset, 15, a student at Smithtown High School, revived in December with a defibrillator purchased by school officials.

James Hanrahan of St. James was on the third hole at St. George's Golf and County Club in Stony Brook in September 2001 when he had a heart attack. Club officials had heard of the Acomporas' efforts and completed their training on their newly purchased defibrillators just two weeks before. They shocked him three times before restoring a normal heartbeat. Hanrahan said yesterday that he has played roughly 140 rounds of golf since.

About the Acomporas, Hanrahan said: "Without them, I wouldn't be here. They have done an incredible job in a small amount of time. They are wonderful people.”

Copyright © 2002, Newsday, Inc.

Sunday, November 17, 2002

Defibrillator at Game Saves LI Man's Life

By Tom Rock and Daphne Sashin
November 17, 2002

A Bay Shore man's life was saved last night after he had a heart attack in the stands of a high school playoff football game at Hofstra University and was revived with a defibrillator, a team physician and an athletic administrator said.

"Thank God we had the defibrillator here today," said Pat Pizzarelli, Nassau football coordinator. "The response of the doctors and the trainer was exceptional and it saved that gentleman's life."

About 8 p.m. as the players from Locust Valley and Seaford were being introduced, John Tierney, 62, was walking toward the bleachers. Suddenly, his knees buckled and he hit his head on the first row of seats, said Kathy Carusi, the mother of a Locust Valley player, who saw it happen.

Emergency personnel and Hofstra security rushed to him. Artie Sanderstrom, a volunteer firefighter with the Locust Valley Fire Department who was a security supervisor for the game, administered CPR along with Dr. Howard Cohn, Locust Valley team physician.

Whittney Smith, the Locust Valley athletic trainer, then called for the school's automatic defibrillator, which was on the sidelines.

As "The Star-Spangled Banner" played, Tierney was moved underneath the stands out of the rain and hooked up to the machine. Smith had never used a defibrillator before, he said, "other than on a mannequin."

After the first shock from the portable device, the man's heart regained its rhythm briefly, then lost it, Smith said. After the second shock, his heartbeat was restored. Tierney was taken to Nassau University Medical Center in East Meadow, where he was admitted to the critical care unit. He was in stable condition last night, spokeswoman Shelley Lotenberg said. Tierney is an uncle of Locust Valley senior receiver Ryan Simensky.

Under a state law that went into effect Sept. 1, a defibrillator is required to be in every school and at every athletic event and school-sponsored event by Dec. 1. A defibrillator is required at all playoff games, Pizzarelli said. Yesterday's game was a Nassau Conference IV semifinal game.

The Locust Valley school district has about 12 machines. For the past three years, it has had one at the sideline of every sporting event, a school official said.

"If that man lives, it is because of [Smith]," Cohn said. "Without the defibrillator, he never comes back."

Copyright © 2002, Newsday, Inc.

Monday, November 11, 2002

Public Access Defibrillator programs make life-saving difference

The NCAA News -- November 11, 2002
Supplement to The NCAA News -- Health and Safety Newsletter


Gerry Bram, an NCAA Division I football referee, is alive today due to the availability of a defibrillation device and the swift actions of the sports-medicine staff from Syracuse University.

University and college athletics programs are in a unique position to raise public awareness of the life-saving capabilities of automatic external defibrillators (AEDs) just by having them available for the people they service.

Sudden cardiac arrest was responsible for about 490,000 deaths in 1999, according to the Center for Disease Control, and only about half of those victims made it to the hospital. Tomorrow, about 1,000 people will suffer a cardiac arrest in our country, and only about 50 will survive. Most of those deaths are unnecessary.

In the collegiate athletics environment, the risks of sudden cardiac arrests are present with our coaches, referees, staff members, bus drivers, fans and even student-athletes. Most cardiac arrests are caused by a disruption in the heart's normal rhythm. This rhythm disruption most often results in a condition called ventricular fibrillation, where the heart maintains an electrical charge, but it is essentially misfiring.

Defibrillation is the technique involving the administration of an electric shock that can restore the heart's normal rhythm. While this procedure historically has been available only from paramedics or in hospital settings, the development of a portable computer that can analyze a person's heart rhythm has enabled lay people, coaches and sports-medicine staff members to be trained to perform this procedure. These portable devices, about the size of a lightweight laptop computer, are increasingly more practical to have available.

Remarkable outcomes

Sudden cardiac death in young athletes is a rare but devastating occurrence. Although attempts are made to identify athletes at risk for cardiovascular disease, many have no symptoms and no physical examination findings. Structural cardiac abnormalities are the most common cause of sudden cardiac death in student-athletes. Because of the difficulty in identifying these underlying anomalies, the accessibility of an AED is important in the event of a life-threatening dysrhythmia.

Truly remarkable outcomes are seen when defibrillators are used on sudden cardiac arrest victims. The success rate of restoring normal heart rhythm through standard CPR techniques is less than 5 percent. Add defibrillation within the first minute after arrest, and it becomes an amazing 95 percent. Communities who have initiated Public Access Defibrillator (PAD) programs that place AEDs in ambulances, police cars, and other public locations are experiencing sudden cardiac arrest survival rates of as high as 43 percent, compared with large cities with no such program where the survival rate drops as low as 1 percent.

Paramedics nationwide will be the first to admit that their life-saving attempts in cases of cardiac arrest are rarely successful. The time it takes for the emergency squad to respond to a 911 call is usually greater than 10 minutes. Those precious minutes are the critical difference between life and death. As mentioned, 90 percent of sudden cardiac arrest victims who are treated with a defibrillator within the first minute of arrest can be saved. However, for every minute that defibrillation is delayed, there is about a 10 percent reduction in the chance for survival.

AED availability

The value of having these devices appears obvious. However, liability concerns, quick availability of emergency personnel, training requirements, cardiac risk of the population and the cost and maintenance of the machines are among valid concerns that have arisen regarding the need for having AEDs at athletics venues.

The liability risk of using an AED was addressed when in 2000 President Clinton initiated a bill that grants legal immunity to good Samaritans who use AEDs. Since then, most states have rewritten their own good Samaritan laws to include language about the use of AEDs.

From another angle, a plaintiff in a fitness facility received a $2.5 million award after a lawsuit charging the facility for not meeting a member's emergency-response needs when the plaintiff had a heart attack and there was no AED available (Chai versus Sports Fitness Clubs of America, Circuit Court, 17th Judicial District, Broward County, Florida). This suit may represent a shift toward requiring fitness-related facilities to have AEDs available.

All instructors of CPR through the American Heart Association and the American Red Cross are now trained in the use of AEDs. The NCAA currently recommends annual training of athletics personnel in CPR. The inclusion of AED education within that training would be practical and time efficient.

Although the cost of AEDs is dropping, most still range between $2,000 and $4,000, a hefty sum for many athletics departments. For state institutions, the U.S. Senate passed the Community Access to Emergency Defibrillation Act in 2001, which budgeted $55 million a year for five years for communities to install AEDs in public places, to train first responders, to encourage private companies to purchase AEDs, and to promote public access to defibrillation in schools. Grant applications can be sent to the Secretary of Health and Human Services. More information on the details of this act is available at

Public access to AEDs is critical for successful intervention. The statistics speak for themselves and the cost of saving one life certainly justifies the purchase price of a unit.

Douglas P. Zipes, former president of the American College of Cardiology, said in a recent New York Times article, "I have a cure for sudden death: it's getting a defibrillator to the patient. The problem is getting it to them in an appropriate time interval. How can I make that happen?"

The initiation of PAD programs by colleges and universities has created results that travel like waves from campus communities all the way to state legislation. Those who have recognized the need are spreading the awareness and making a difference.

Athletic trainers promote AED use

There are countless stories of university and college medical teams using AEDs to save lives. As a result, many have impacted the awareness and availability of AEDs on their campus and also in their surrounding communities.

Stephanie Brandt, athletic trainer at Concordia College, Moorhead, was glad the school purchased its AED when it did. Less than one month afterward, a retired professor had a massive heart attack after playing a lunch-hour basketball game in the athletics building. "He is alive today, two years later, because of the training I obtained and expedient use of the AED by myself and others," Brandt said.

The medical staff at Syracuse University, including athletic trainer Tim Neal and team physician Irving Raphael, joined forces with athletic trainers from East Carolina University to save the life of a football referee during the teams' game in September.

At a University of Iowa wrestling match, the device was used after the collapse of a spectator in the bleachers. Iowa athletic trainer Dan Foster said, "The results were dramatic. The immediate success has resulted in a continued high quality of life for the patient. That one incident has resulted in an increase in AED purchases in the community, general public awareness, and changes in the AED regulations in the state."

Athletic trainers nationwide are spearheading Public Access Defibrillator programs on their campuses and in their communities. These programs market the development of phases to initiate the availability of AEDs in public places. Initially, they are made accessible on all ambulances, followed by police cars and campus security, and then in public buildings. Communities that recognize PAD as a priority are using ingenuity to make it happen.

Rochel Rittgers is the director of athletic training services at Augustana College (Illinois). She chairs the drug-education and drug-testing subcommittee of the NCAA Committee on Competitive Safeguards and Medical Aspects of Sports.

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