Saturday, April 28, 2007

'He Was My Savior' Bay Shore oral surgeon, advocate of lifesaving device, uses it to save women


Dr. Craig Levine couldn't save his 9-year-old son, Robbie, from dying of sudden cardiac arrest on a Little League ballfield in September 2005, but when faced with a similar situation with a patient this week, he made a difference.

Levine, of Merrick, and his family have raised money to provide defibrillators to youth sports leagues since his son's death. On Thursday afternoon, there was a fresh reminder of the urgency of their efforts, when a woman collapsed from a heart attack while waiting for a dental consultation in Levine's oral surgery office in Bay Shore.

Levine had an automatic external defibrillator on hand, and doctors say he probably saved the woman's life.

"I've never been a person who's believed in destiny, but there's something weird here," Levine said Friday. "Maybe this is our mission in life."

Loretta, 76, a Moriches woman who declined to give her last name, said she believes divine intervention guided her to Levine's office.

"God took me to sit in ... [his] office," she said while resting in the intensive care unit at Southside Hospital in Bay Shore. "And a dentist! Who would have thought?" she added. "He was my savior."

Loretta said she was making her first visit to Levine on Thursday because she had a loose tooth cap and jaw aches. Earlier that day she had eaten some spicy chili, and when she started having chest pains while driving to Levine's office, she blamed it on heartburn. But as she was waiting, her heart stopped beating and she passed out against the wall.

While his staff called 911, Levine prepared the defibrillator. New York State oral surgeons, because they may administer anaesthesia to patients, are required to have defibrillators in their offices and to know how to use them, Levine said.

The Phillips HeartStart he has in his office is the same model that the Forever 9 foundation - the foundation that Levine started - has provided to youth sports leagues. The machine, intended for nonhospital use, is smaller than a phone book, and the two thin plastic paddles are each the size of a playing card.

Levine believes in defibrillators and still wonders if Robbie would have lived if one had been at that ballfield. The foundation, which is dedicated to Robbie's memory, is having its second annual fundraiser run Sunday in Merrick.

After Levine shocked Loretta, she vomited twice and began breathing normally.

Levine and the hospital said a patient's chances of survival decrease by 10 percent every minute after a heart attack.

Paramedic Tim Dackow arrived with the Bay Shore-Brightwaters Volunteer Ambulance crew. "The physician obviously made the big difference by applying the ... [defibrillator] and doing the lifesaving shock," Dackow said. "Without his efforts, everything else I did and the hospital staff did may not have been successful."

Loretta hasn't had a heart attack before, but she has a pacemaker and a history of heart disease, she said. She hoped to be discharged next week, possibly with a new pacemaker with a built-in defibrillator.

"We're very relieved because my dad had a massive heart attack, and he didn't live," said her daughter Ann.

Levine naturally has mulled the strange turn of events. "I'd much rather have saved my son's life," he said quietly. "But any life you save is good, and it's not up to me to determine whose life you do save."

And he knows Robbie would have given him a high-five for his heroic deed. "I think he would have been pretty impressed," Levine said.

Heart smart

NORMAL HEART: To pump blood, the heart's four chambers work in an orderly, synchronized manner.

CARDIAC ARREST: Faulty electrical and chemical signals, brought on by a heart attack or medical condition, can throw off the pumping rhythm. Blood flow to the body and brain slows or stops.

DEFIBRILLATOR: Two paddles placed on the patient's chest discharge jolts of electricity that reset the heart to a normal rhythm.

Copyright 2007 Newsday Inc.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

A Son's Death Inspires a Mission

Barton Silverman/The New York Times
Jill and Craig Levine, of Merrick, N.Y., with their children Samantha, 2; Rylie, 6 months; and Joshua, 8.
The couple’s oldest child, Robbie, died in 2005, at age 9, during a baseball practice.

Webmaster's note: Dr. Craig Levine saved a women's life with an AED just 4 days after this article was published. Read about the save by clicking here.

By Michael Winerip

Merrick, NY - HOW do you survive a child’s death?

On Sept. 27, 2005, at Little League practice, Robbie Levine was running the bases during a relay race. As he rounded first, his dad, Craig, the coach, remembers thinking his son had never run so fast. Robbie was a fine little athlete, that blessed 9-year-old who could catch a grounder and make the throw to first, a smart, focused boy you could put at shortstop to hold your infield together.

The father had turned to watch the next base runner and so didn’t notice the commotion right away. Robbie had reached home plate and collapsed.

“I thought he fainted,” his dad says. “I remember shaking him. He was kind of writhing. I said, ‘What’s the matter?’ He wouldn’t wake up. It started to click. I checked for a pulse, felt his arm and neck. I kept saying, ‘God, this can’t be happening.’ ”

Craig Levine is an oral surgeon and had just been recertified in CPR. “I gave him two breaths,” he says. “Then I started CPR.” He says Robbie breathed twice. “I realized later they were his agonal breaths. You learn about it in dental school, but until you see it. ...”

A police officer arrived about five minutes later with a defibrillator. “We put it on his chest,” the father says. “It said, ‘Deliver shock.’ ”

Robbie did not revive.

The ambulance came, and Dr. Levine went along.

His wife, Jill, was at home, with their younger son, Josh, running a Cub Scout meeting, when a neighbor came over. “She told me Robbie collapsed,” Ms. Levine recalls. “I figured he fainted.”

Friends stayed with Josh, then 6, and his 6-month-old sister, Samantha. Josh told everyone Robbie was just dehydrated.

“On the way,” Ms. Levine says, “I kept asking, ‘Is it going to be O.K.?’ My friend said, ‘It’s really bad.’ ”

Ms. Levine saw her husband waiting in the hospital parking lot.

“I don’t think he’s going to be O.K.,” he told his wife. “His heart stopped. I think he died.”

Today, Dr. Levine says, “I knew he was dead, as soon as we got into the ambulance. I knew on the ball field he wasn’t going to wake up. And then you sit in that room and they tell you, ‘We tried everything.’ ”

Ms. Levine says, “I just started screaming.”

Robbie Levine was pronounced dead about 8 p.m. By 10 his parents were home.

“I don’t think we slept for a few days, just looking at the ceiling wondering how,” Dr. Levine says. Besides grief, there was anger. Could Robbie have been saved if there had been a defibrillator at the field, immediately available?

This would become his parents’ cause. “It became my main focus, my coping mechanism,” says Ms. Levine, who was a social worker before staying home with the kids.

They wanted Robbie buried beside his grandfather and were told there was no room in the plot. They found themselves demanding in ways they never had before. “I kept saying, ‘He can’t be by himself,’ ” Ms. Levine says. The cemetery relented.

“People ask, ‘How do you get up in the morning?’ ” Ms. Levine says. “I had a 6-month-old daughter. I had no choice. We needed to live our life, be the normal family we are. You don’t want Josh growing up saying, ‘When I was 6, we were so screwed up, we never did anything.’ ”

They saw a grief counselor. “I went for two sessions and cried my eyes out,” Dr. Levine says. “She told me what I’m feeling is normal. So why did I need to go?”

They have consulted several medical experts about what caused Robbie’s heart failure, but 18 months later they still don’t know. It’s more than just a need to understand. Could it be genetic? Could it affect their other children? Sudden cardiac death is extremely rare: According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, it kills 1 in 200,000 young athletes a year.

Robbie’s death was particularly puzzling. Three months earlier, he’d complained of dizziness at a baseball practice, and the Levines had taken him to a pediatric cardiologist. Robbie was given an electrocardiogram and, at the mother’s insistence, an echocardiogram.

“They acted like I was this crazy mother,” she says. “The doctor said: ‘He has the healthiest heart I’ve ever seen. I never want to see him back.’ ”

Robbie’s episode of dizziness and his heart failure came when he was physically active. The Levines wondered if a stress test would have detected a problem. Between Robbie’s visit to the cardiologist and his death, he was constantly playing sports. Had there been other times he had felt dizzy and did not say so? “You tell a 9-year-old not to worry,” his father says. “Maybe he felt it and figured, ‘The doctor says I’m fine.’ ”

They have thought of suing, but have taken no action while they try to find answers.

They’ve sent the 27-page autopsy report to a pediatric cardiologist and a pediatric pathologist. Those experts did not pinpoint a cause and recommended other experts.

Robbie’s brother seemed perfectly healthy, but as a precaution, the Levines took him to a new cardiologist. “We said, ‘Treat Josh as if he was Robbie,’ ” Ms. Levine recalls. The 6-year-old had an EKG, an echocardiogram and a stress test and wore a heart monitor for 24 hours. All the results were fine.

And all the while, the Levines have worked at getting back to normal. Two weeks before Robbie died they had bought a new kitchen table at Macy’s. “At the store, we sat around the table to see if five chairs would fit,” Dr. Levine says.

They felt it might be a mistake not to fill that fifth chair again.

Six months ago, a second daughter, Rylie, was born.

A million things make them remember Robbie. “You see a couple with three kids, you wonder if they lost a kid, too,” Dr. Levine says. “I see a patient who’s 9, I think, ‘That’s how old Robbie was.’ I see one who’s 11, I think, ‘That’s how old he’d be.’ ”

Josh is now 8. His parents believe he is doing fine. “He doesn’t have behavior issues, he does well in school, he’s a happy child,” Ms. Levine says.

Around Josh, they try not to dwell on Robbie, but mention him when it seems right. His dad coaches Josh’s Rookie League team. “I’ll say, ‘Do you think Robbie would have loved this game?’ ” Dr. Levine says. “And Josh says: ‘I was thinking about him a lot today.’ He knows he’s missing.”

On April 29, in Merrick, the Levines will hold their second 5K race to raise money for the Robbie Levine Foundation. Last year they raised $35,000. Because of the foundation, there are now defibrillators at all 10 Little League fields in Merrick, stored in sheds along with the bases and ice packs. Every coach takes a three-hour training course in defibrillator use. The foundation has also made a DVD about Robbie in hopes that youth programs elsewhere will do what Merrick has done.

While public health experts I interviewed say the $1,500 each defibrillator costs might be better spent for vaccinations against diseases that kill more children, like meningitis or influenza, the Levines say if one of their defibrillators saves one child, that would be sufficient.

“If it’s your child,” Ms. Levine says, “it’s your whole world.”

Copyright 2007 The New York Times Company

Saturday, April 7, 2007

Immeasurable Safety After Friend's Death, Thompson Promoting Sideline Defibrillators

By Whitelaw Reid | 978-7250

After Drew Thompson decided he wanted to play lacrosse at the University of Virginia, one of his first thoughts was whether the uniform No. 12 would be available. It wasn’t his lucky number, or the number of some professional player that he used to idolize.

The number belonged to Louis Acompora, Thompson’s best friend in high school. Acompora died on the lacrosse field during the pair’s freshmen year at Northport High School in New York.

The 14-year-old Acompora, whom Thompson had known since the second grade, fell victim to one of the flukiest killers you’ll ever hear about - commotio cordis.

It’s a syndrome resulting from a blunt impact to the chest - during a precise point in one’s heartbeat - that leads to cardiac arrest. It can happen in just about any sport, from baseball to karate.

“It has to be perfect timing and the perfect spot,” explained Thompson, Virginia’s senior co-captain. “It happens a lot in younger kids because they’re underdeveloped. It’s just real freaky.”

Acompora died on March 25, 2000, while playing goalie for the Northport High freshman team.

Thompson, a member of the school’s JV squad at the time, vividly recalls his friend’s final hours.

“I told him, ‘Good luck’ because it was his first freshman game,” Thompson said. “He was good enough to be on the JV, but the freshman team needed him because he was the only goalie in that class.”

Thompson was supposed to play in the JV scrimmage, but stayed home because he was sick. Later that day, Thompson received a phone call from his father and brother. Both were sobbing.

“They were like, ‘We need to tell you something when we get home,’” Thompson said.

Shortly after, Thompson found out that the kid who used to sleep over at his house all the time, the kid he did everything with, had died.

Thompson was in complete shock.

“It was one of those things you just can’t believe,” Thompson said. “It was crazy. Nobody had ever heard of someone passing away from being hit by a lacrosse ball.

“It was a routine bounce shot that came up and he blocked it with his chest. He scooped the ball up, took a step and then just collapsed.”

According to the United States Commotio Cordis Registry that was formed three years ago, there have been 75 documented cases of the syndrome.

However, the true number of fatalities is anybody’s guess because of the confusion in categorizing it.

It is said that young athletes are especially at risk to commotio cordis because of the “pliability of their chest walls.” Equipment doesn’t seem to make any difference. Even athletes wearing chest protectors have died. And, often times, the ball that strikes them isn’t traveling very fast.

Shortly after their son died, John and Karen Acompora formed the Louis J. Acompora Memorial Foundation in an effort to educate people about the syndrome.

Thompson has been extremely active with the foundation since its inception.

“From the first day that I’ve known him, this foundation has been a part of his life, a part of who he is,” said Virginia coach Dom Starsia. “This is something where tremendous good has come out of a real tragedy.

“For Drew, it’s a very real thing. It’s not a convenient community service thing. This is part of his life and part of who he is. He takes it very seriously.”

Thompson is heavily involved, according to Karen Acompora.

“He keeps appraised of everything going on,” she said. “He always talks [to media members] about the foundation and what it does … it’s a great thing and helps our cause.”

In 2001, New York State passed “Louis’ Law.” It requires all public high schools to have a defibrillator program.

Louis may have had a chance of surviving if such a program had been in existence at the time of his accident. It took paramedics 15 minutes to arrive at the scene.

“The reason why a defibrillator is so important is because every minute that you don’t have one, you lose 10-percent chance of survival,” Thompson said. “You can’t be recessitated with CPR. You need to jumpstart the heart.”

Today, the Acomporas travel the country in an effort to spread the word about commotio cordis. Their goal is to set up defibrillator programs in all high schools.

Virginia has a defibrillator on the sideline for all of its games, according to Thompson, who remains extremely close with the Acompora family. Last season, they came to Philadelphia to watch him play in the NCAA Final Four.

Last summer, Thompson was in the wedding of Louis’ older sister, Alyssa. During the festivities, he read a poem in honor of Louis that was written by Eamon McEneaney, a former lacrosse player at Cornell who died in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

“It was very poignant, and a nice thing for us to be able to reflect,” said Karen Acompora. “It was pretty much about death and, ‘Don’t miss me, I’m still here.’ It was really nice.”

It’s easy to understand why wearing No. 12 was so important to Thompson. Luckily, the number was available when he arrived on grounds because former All-American Billy Glading had just graduated. “It was great that I could wear it right away,” Thompson said.

Since then, all Northport lacrosse players - and even some athletes in other sports - have honored Louis by wearing No. 12 when they get to college.

“He was the type of kid who lit up a room, very outgoing,” Thompson said. “He just kind of had an aura about him. We were inseparable.”

No doubt, Louis would be proud of the work Thompson is doing now. According to the Acomporas, there have been 31 “saves” in the state of New York because of “Louis’ Law.” Eight of those survivors were at a fundraising banquet in October.

“It was just amazing,” Thompson said, “to see all of them step up and say that if it wasn’t for Louis and the foundation, they wouldn’t be living.”

© 2007 Media General. Part of the GatewayVA Network.
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