Simon's Heart, a nonprofit group, helped NPLL crowdfund the purchase of the life-saving device.

North Penn Little League director touts new AED for players, readies volunteers for CPR training

Erin Thurston and her children at the North Penn Little League field.

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Nowadays we all have a lot of different roles in our lives. I’m a Marketing Director at Independence Blue Cross (IBX), where I’ve worked for 13 years. I’m also a wife, a mom, and a coach. And I serve as President of the North Penn Little League.

I find each of these roles both challenging and rewarding in different ways. The most challenging role is probably “coach mom,” but I’m hoping that will be the one with the biggest payoff in the long run. Managing a Little League can be demanding at times, but it’s also very rewarding. I get to see the kids not only improving their baseball skills, but also learning how to deal with challenges, and, more importantly, making friends and having fun. As a volunteer-run organization that relies on registration fees, fundraisers, volunteers, and generous sponsors to exist, it seems like there’s never enough time or money to do all the things on my list. But it still all has to get done somehow.

Sudden Cardiac Death in Athletics

I joined the North Penn Little League Board in 2021 and became its president in January 2023. And right before that happened, Buffalo Bills player Damar Hamlin had a sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) on the field during a game. Basically, his heart stopped suddenly.

He was immediately resuscitated on the field and has made a full recovery. But, for me, that incident was a scary wakeup call. If that kind of emergency could happen during a pro football game, it could happen at another sporting event…like a Little League game.

Luckily, SCA is pretty rare in athletics. One study of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) estimated that it happens to about one in every 40,000 U.S. collegiate athletes. However, it’s still the most common cause of non-accidental death in that population.

SCA also kills about 2,000 children in the U.S. every year, and is responsible for up to five percent of all deaths among children between the ages of five and 19.

If a player collapses on the field, every second counts. So if you’re responsible for a Little League, you’ve got to make sure people are equipped to respond quickly.

Getting an Automatic Emergency Defibrillator

When I became president of the league, it was very important to me that we have an automatic emergency defibrillator (AED) on hand. Not only do I think it’s the right thing to do, but I just can’t stand the idea that there could be a cardiac emergency on the field and we wouldn’t be prepared to respond!

So I began shopping around…and quickly discovered that an AED can cost upwards of $1,400. That was not in our budget! What were we supposed to do?

That’s when I came across Simon’s Heart, an amazing nonprofit that, among other things, allows people to crowdfund the purchase of an AED. This was the solution! I started a campaign on Simon’s Heart and asked my LinkedIn connections to contribute.

I don’t know how we did it, but in just two weeks, we had raised the money we needed. I was astounded. But I’m finding that when you ask for stuff like this, people want to help.

I ordered the AED, it came, and now it’s in our coaches’ room. I hope we never have to use it. But it’s there — ready to save lives.

Next Steps

Now that we have our AED, we are looking to get CPR and AED training for the volunteers in our league who are likely to respond to these kinds of emergencies. Since our volunteers already do so much, our League would like to cover the cost of these trainings, and they can be pricey, too. But we were able to find a local ambulance company, VMSC of Lansdale, that will train us at cost. We should be able to implement the trainings in fall 2024 or spring 2025.

There also are some resources out there for getting free CPR trainings, such as Penn Medicine’s Mobile CPR or IBX’s Mobile Hands-Only CPR Kiosks. You don’t get certified, but you do learn the steps to identify and respond to a SCA emergency. And, for that matter, even if you haven’t been trained to use them, AEDs will walk you through what you need to do to until a medical professional arrives. I just wanted my Little League’s volunteers to have the option of becoming fully certified.

Thanks to our Simon’s Heart fundraiser, we now have one AED at our main field. But our league is growing. We’re up to 450 kids now — that’s 50 more families than last year. And we have two other locations. So, we really need to get more AEDs.

It will happen. We did it once, we can do it again. And if we can do it, other organizations like ours can do it too.

AEDs Save Lives

If you’re reading this, and you’re responsible for the safety of young athletes, please consider getting an AED. If you know someone else who’s in that position, please share this blog with them.

Yes, AEDs aren’t cheap; but with the help of organizations like Simon’s Heart, cost doesn’t have to be a barrier to owning this game-changing technology.

In the U.S., bystanders save about 1,700 lives every year by using AEDs while waiting for emergency medical services to arrive. The more AEDs there are, and the more people who know how to use them, the more lives can be saved.

Thursday, July 25, 2024




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