With February being American Heart Month, most are likely prepared to wear red, donate to charities and ideally think about what they can personally do to make their circulatory system healthier.
While health and awareness may be encouraged this month to try to prevent potential catastrophe, how prepared are communities when those cardiac emergencies happen? As it turns out, most municipalities aren’t thinking about it much at all. But over the last year, the Village of Rye Brook has been marching to a different beat.
The community was jarred on Dec. 27, 2017, after then Blind Brook High School senior Jordan Schoen collapsed during an away basketball game at Pelham High School. He had suffered from sudden cardiac arrest and was only saved because police officers and doctors attending the game had quick access to an Automated External Defibrillator (AED) and knew the proper protocol.
Jordan was just over 17 years old, and his trauma is not uncommon. According to the national advocacy organization Parent Heart Watch, sudden cardiac arrest kills more than 356,000 people annually and is the leading cause of death in student athletes, particularly 17-year-old men.
Driven to try and prevent any cardiac related fatalities in Rye Brook, Alice Schoen, Jordan’s mother, used the emotion behind her family’s scare to devote herself to advocacy.
“After things sort of settled down with Jordan, I started asking general questions about where the AEDs are in the parks, about CPR trainings in the village or with volunteer couches,” explained Schoen, a Talcott Road resident. “There was nothing in place. No protocols, really. But over the last year, as a community, the Village was really supportive in trying to move things forward and put something in place to make our community more heart aware.”
According to Rye Brook Village Administrator Christopher Bradbury, Schoen’s questions sparked momentum. She wanted to see if they could improve their protocol standards, and they thought it was a great idea.
In Bradbury’s research, he discovered it seems most municipalities don’t have a formalized cardiac emergency plan. At least, to his knowledge, none in Westchester do. New York schools, however, are required to have a plan, so a committee came together to modify a school-type plan so it would fit a village.
On May 8, 2018, the Rye Brook Board of Trustees unanimously adopted the Cardiac Emergency Response Plan. It was effective immediately.
“If this program is able to save a life, then it’s worth it,” Bradbury said. “Part of it is letting people feel comfortable knowing that if they need help, help is available. It takes guesswork out of the response if people know where AEDs are located and have training. If this can help avoid a tragic accident, then it’s definitely worth it.”
Prepared with a plan
Jordan was not the first Rye Brook resident with a sudden cardiac arrest tragedy.
In November 2013, David Colasante collapsed during a soccer game on the King Street Field. He was the coach for his son’s team, and they were playing a father-son game during their final practice of the season.
“He just went down, a lot of people thought he was having a seizure,” described his wife Dana Colasante, who partnered with Schoen in her efforts. “But the stars were aligned. One of the parent’s friend who was an ER doctor was with his daughter’s team on the football field nearby, and as soon as David was down, he ran to him. Then, one of the moms happened to be on the athletics committee, knew there was an AED in the school and ran to it which just happened to be open on a Saturday.”
David survived, but his case inspired the Village to install AED devices in the public park bathrooms. Therefore, Bradbury said, a large part in forming the Cardiac Emergency Response Plan was looking at what they already had and how they could improve it.
The first step in the initiative was establishing a review team, who are tasked to meet twice a year and after any CPR or AED related incident occurs, to review the protocol. The team is comprised of Superintendent of Parks and Recreation Robert Bertolacci, Police Chief Gregory Austin, Bradbury and Schoen. It’s coordinated by Port Chester-Rye-Rye Brook EMS Administrator Scott Moore, who has designated Lieutenant Paramedic Kenneth Barton with many of the responsibilities.
Additionally, both Blind Brook and Port Chester School Districts are represented, with Blind Brook Athletic Director DJ Goldman and Port Chester Athletic Director James Ryan participating.
Because the goal is to make the community more aware and prepared, the team compiled a list of all AED machines in the Village and requested additional units where necessary.
“In some parks, there would be an AED there, but there was no signage indicating where it is,” said Colasante, a Betsy Brown Road resident. “So in this huge area, unless you happened to walk by it you wouldn’t know where it is. And honestly, until it happens to you, it’s not something you ever think about.”
“So now as part of this overall plan, when you go around the parks there’s more signage,” Schoen continued. “Because how effective is having them when no one knows where they are.”
In Rye Brook, there are AEDs located in:
*Rye Brook Village Hall
*Anthony J. Posillipo Community Center
*Pine Ridge Park, in the women’s bathroom
*King Street Athletic Fields, in the women’s bathroom
*Garibaldi Park, in the women’s bathroom
*Harkness Park, in the small building near the tennis courts
*Crawford Park, outside the pavilion
*Rye Brook Police Station
*Rye Brook Public Works Facility
*Every Police Vehicle and Fire Truck
“One of the hugest things the village did was implement training requirements,” Schoen said. “There was a lot of discussion on how much CPR training staff and coaches should have, and the Village provided a full certified program taught by Ken Barton through EMS. Obviously, the intention is hopefully we’ll never have to put this in place. But it’s empowering to have the knowledge.”
As detailed in the Cardiac Emergency Response Plan, as of the Spring 2018 Little League season, all head and assistant coaches were required to attend CPR and AED training.
Since implementing the requirement, Barton said 50 Little League and basketball coaches, and 44 travel soccer and baseball coaches have been certified.
“The coaches have been giving tremendous feedback,” he said. “I’ll usually get a few phone calls before a scheduled session, where they seem disappointed about it being a three-hour class. But by the end of the night, everyone is saying ‘thank you.’ They really recognize the value of these skills.”
The plan also states that a minimum of 25 percent of full-time village staff in each municipal building should also be trained. According to Bradbury, they’ve well exceeded the quota.
Though schools already have similar plans, requirements and protocol in place, Goldman said Blind Brook has taken steps for extra precaution. They are currently in the process of installing additional AEDs at Ridge Street Elementary School and the breezeway that leads to the track and field at the Middle School/High School.
“It’s awesome to be a part of creating this village-wide plan,” Goldman said. “We’re such a small village, so a lot of the stuff on school grounds are also used by the (recreation) department, so it’s really good to have this collaborative process.”
What to do when it strikes
If it wasn’t for help at the King Street Field in 2013, Colasante said her husband likely would not have survived. Because if someone is struck by sudden cardiac arrest, time is of the essence.
“Cardiac arrest, anytime it happens, it’s extremely time sensitive,” Barton said. “Survivability drops seven to 10 percent a minute with no intervention. When it’s five minutes in, they’re at a 50 percent chance if nothing is done. So, if anyone in the community can bridge the gap, to stabilize until an ambulance comes, it makes a huge difference for the potential outcome for that person.”
Protocol in the plan states that the first step in an emergency is being aware and identifying when sudden cardiac arrest is happening. Signs include: if the person is not moving, unresponsive or unconscious, if the person is not breathing properly or if the person appears to be having a seizure.
Even if a person is exhibiting signs after being struck in the chest, they may be experiencing sudden cardiac arrest.
If a scenario is suspect, emergency help should be contacted immediately. Ideally, according to the report, if using a cell phone, a person should call the local police department directly, because 9-1-1 will be routed to the New York State Police which will take more time.
The Rye Brook Police Desk phone number is 914-937-1020.
If someone nearby is trained in CPR, they should start continuous chest compressions immediately while someone else retrieves the nearest AED device. The goal is to press on the chest hard and fast, giving 100-120 compressions per minute.
When AED becomes accessible, users should use it on the patient.
“Press the power-on button and attach the pads to the patient as shown in the diagram on the pads,” the emergency plan protocol states. “Then follow the AED audio and visual instructions.”
The defibrillators will deliver shocks to the person as needed, and only if shocks are needed.
CPR should then be continued until EMS arrives to the scene and advanced life support can be provided.
Because of the urgency of the cardiac emergency, Barton emphasized the more people trained in CPR and AED usage the better. He encourages anyone interested in receiving training to call him at the EMS headquarters at 914- 939-8112.