The Biggest Heart of All

The Biggest Heart of All 

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Allison Gingold is a crusader. After an AED (automated external defibrillator) literally brought her son back to life, she took it upon herself to make sure that other kids in the same unanticipated life-threatening situation could stand a chance. She may just have the biggest heart of anyone I know.  

This week we are celebrating the 9th anniversary of saving our son’s life. As I reflect on this miracle, I can attest to the power of sharing your story, being vulnerable and challenging the status quo in order to move humanity forward.

In June 2009, my family and I traveled to Israel for my daughter’s Bat Mitzvah. It was a beautiful vacation that involved a two-week tour of the entire country from the 115-degree brutal deserts to its seas that are actually under sea level. Along the vacation, we traveled to Masada, the oldest known synagogue in the world, for my daughter’s service atop a cliff in the middle of the desert. Around 4:00 in the afternoon, after a two-hour bus ride back into town from Masada, Zach collapsed on the hotel lobby’s floor. I turned over his lifeless body to find his eyes rolled up and his skin cold and pale. The hotel security and someone on our tour began CPR and administered the hotel’s automated external cardiac defibrillator. We managed to abort sudden cardiac death. Miraculously, Zach survived. However, less than half of the 350,000-plus Americans who experience a cardiac arrest outside a hospital each year receive bystander CPR before medical help arrives. Only about one in ten survives. That’s why it is so vital to arm people with the knowledge and confidence to become a lifesaver.

If CPR alone isn’t enough, AEDs can be the last resort.

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Upon returning to Los Angeles, I was shocked and dismayed to find the lack of availability of AEDs and CPR training on school campuses. Our children’s private school took immediate action by purchasing 11 defibrillators for their K-12 campuses and all of the faculty and administration are trained to perform CPR and use an AED. This was not the case for most California public schools. Through our family’s advocacy, Governor Brown signed The CPR in Schools legislation requiring schools to teach students hands-on CPR and how to use an automated external defibrillator.

Every year thousands of our kids die from underlying heart defects or syndromes that can happen without symptoms or warning signs. It’s not a heart attack. SCA is an abnormality in the heart’s electrical system or structure that can be detected with a heart screening. But EKGs and echocardiograms are NOT a part of your teen’s annual well-child exam or pre-participation sports physical, even though studies show 1 in 300 youth has an undetected heart condition. How many children must suffer sudden cardiac arrest for us to give merit to the importance of simple heart screenings? It can literally mean the difference between life and death.

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Saving Hearts Foundation fills this void by providing free heart screenings for young competitive athletes. Founded by three UCLA undergraduates, Saving Hearts is a national non-profit foundation that strives to protect young athletes from Sudden Cardiac Arrest. In other words, a foundation run for the youth by the youth. I met with these young UCLA sophomores at the beginning of their journey and am so impressed by their commitment and tireless efforts to save lives. They have uncovered numerous underlying heart conditions in children during their events. Their mission is to prevent Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SCA) through awareness, education, and action.  Saving Hearts also strives to place AEDs in schools throughout the Los Angeles community that cannot afford to purchase them on their own.

The biggest misconception about SCA is that it won’t happen to your child. You have no family history…your child has no symptoms…your doctor has not indicated a screening was needed… your school or youth program has not prioritized cardiac preparedness. But there is a dangerously low awareness of SCA among parents, educators and the medical community, even though it’s the leading cause of death on school campuses and the #1 killer of student athletes.

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From our dramatic experience 8 years ago, we learned the power of connectedness. We cannot impress upon you the value of providing our children with the tools to potentially save another person’s life. From personal experience, you can understand that without the immediate action by people around us, our lives would be dramatically different today. We were one of the fortunate ones. We all can prevent tragedy through positive actions and preventive care. 

Learn more about the Saving Hearts Foundation here.