Heartfelt Program

AED celebration also serves as reminder to communal leaders of importance of training, maintenance

“Thousands of lives each year would be saved if more defibrillators were placed throughout the country. We, as the Jewish nation, value life tremendously. The Automated
External Defibrillator (AED) Program shows achdus, unity, and our commitment to help all Jewish people, regardless of their affiliations,” said Frank Storch, who oversees the Chesed Fund Ltd.

Storch was speaking shortly after last Monday night’s Project Ezra/Chesed Fund AED event, a celebration of 10 years since the program kicked off. It was also a celebration of two Jewish lives saved locally. And it was a call to action to make sure people are trained and AEDs checked.

More than 120 people gathered at Pikesville’s Doubletree Hotel on May 6, people from all walks of Jewish life who have an AED in their shul or school because of the Chesed Fund and the now-defunct Project Ezra.

Among those in attendance was Steven Silverman, a member of Beth El Congregation. Silverman’s life was saved in 2009 after he experienced sudden cardiac arrest during a Saturday morning service. He was resuscitated by a trained synagogue member with the congregation’s AED.

“I’m more than 3 1/2 years post-sudden cardiac arrest. I’m deemed to be in good health, but my heart function is monitored regularly because of the pacemaker/defibrillator that is in my chest. I’m told that it is functioning perfectly. I’m not restricted in any way from any vigorous activities.

I play tennis in two regular weekly doubles games. For the last two years I’ve been president of Beth El Congregation, and I’m a divorce law attorney, so I continue to be exposed to high stress levels without any cardiac side effects,” Silverman told the Baltimore Jewish Times.

He said at times it has been “strange” or “awkward” to be a poster child for the AED program, but he’d rather be a cardiac arrest success story than one of the hundreds of tragedies; of the
approximately 359,400 people of all ages who experience out-of-hospital SCA each year, nine out of 10 victims die, according to the Sudden Cardiac Arrest Foundation.

“Project Ezra and Beth El saved my life along with the people who worked on me that morning. It is common nature not to dwell on those events on a daily basis, life gets in the way. But the program Monday night refocused everyone’s attention on the need to make sure that proper training of personnel and maintenance of the equipment is given the highest priority,” said Silverman.

Dr. Elimelech Goldstein was among those who spearheaded the local project, and he continues to work with it. He explained that in 2003 he volunteered with Project Ezra by teaching CPR at local synagogues and schools. The group had discussed implementing an AED program for several years, but the cost per unit was prohibitive. In 2003, said Dr. Goldstein, an approximately $1,000 unit became available.

“We called a meeting together at Suburban Orthodox [Congregation Toras Chaim] for basically every synagogue and Jewish school in the state. We had a pretty full room and we
offered the program to everyone. There were not a whole lot of people who turned it down,” recalled Dr. Goldstein.

Approximately 14 AEDs were inst-alled in the first several months, said Gerald Shavrick, who oversaw Project Ezra at the time. Today, there are 70 AEDs in more than 50 locations throughout Jewish Baltimore, locations ranging from Beth El and Baltimore Hebrew Congregations to Talmudical Academy, Bnos Yisroel School for Girls, the Pearlstone Center and even Sol Levinson & Bros.

At the event last Monday, Dr. Jerald Insel explained there is a difference between a heart attack and sudden cardiac arrest. A person can have a heart attack and go to the hospital to be treated, Shavrick, Project Ezra’s former executive director recalled the doctor saying. With sudden cardiac arrest, the person passes out and dies within a few minutes.  “The heart just stops beating,” said Shavrick. “An ambulance could take 10 to 12 minutes to get there. If you have a defibrillator and you use it, the person can be saved in the next couple of minutes.”

An AED works by administering an electric shock through the chest wall to the heart. Built-in computers assess the patient’s heart rhythm, judge whether defibrillation is needed and then
administer the shock. Audible and/or visual prompts guide the user through the process.

But people on the ground have to know what to do to get the AED and how to use it.

That was a second but equal goal of the May 6 celebration.

Dr. Goldstein said the Chesed Fund is not looking to grow the AED program but rather to manage the locations it already has. He said Monday night’s event served to help remind communal leaders of the imp-ortance of having solid support staff in every location and of checking the device at least monthly.

“That was the take-home message, the call to action,” said Dr. Goldstein.

“Imagine if we didn’t do this,” said Storch. “Mr. Silverman wouldn’t be alive today.”

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