On May 6, 2012, our world was shattered, when Cody, our 18-year-old son, fell asleep in our recliner—and never woke up. My youngest, with an athletic scholarship to play college football (#76 in the photo above), had a sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) and died. It was beyond my comprehension how my happy, healthy son could just lay down and die. He passed a physical every year from 7th through 12th grade, and we had no known family history of heart disease. Through this, I learned SCA is a leading cause of death among young athletes and annual physicals that are supposed to identify potential risks are actually of little use. Cody’s autopsy eventually stated he died from idiopathic left ventricle hypertrophy. In layman’s terms, the left side of his heart was enlarged, but the cause of the enlargement was unknown. I also learned SCA happens more often than most people realize, but no one really knows an accurate incident rate.
My husband and I learned about an organization, Parent Heart Watch, started by families like ours from across the U.S. who had lost a child to SCA. Through this organization, we met with others who were walking the same path, and were very helpful in educating us more on SCA as well as the need for awareness, education and prevention. We learned nearly all of the conditions that cause SCA are treatable and not necessarily fatal if identified. I realized we needed to do a better job of educating parents about this horrific possibility, and make identifying those at risk a priority so they could get treatment before it was too late. My purpose and mission for the rest of my life became to do everything I possibly could to prevent another family from having to experience the loss my family has suffered.
As a result, our family created The Cody Stephens Go Big or Go Home Memorial Foundation which offers to help schools improve their physicals by adding electrocardiograms (ECGs) to the required physicals, as well as paying for the test during the inaugural year of the school’s program implementation.
I began to hear about other children and young adults who died as a result of SCA and was convinced that we must do a better job of educating schools to be aware and prepared for SCA. Through contacts made at Parent Heart Watch, I learned about Project ADAM, and began steps to bring the program to the Houston area.
Project ADAM began in Wisconsin in 1999, when Adam Lemel, 17, died while playing basketball at school. There was no AED available, so his parents began Project ADAM by placing AEDs in area schools and helping them be more prepared to save a life. The program has since grown to more than a dozen affiliates across the nation with the mission to save lives.
The Cardiology team at Texas Children’s Hospital embraced the concept, and in September 2015 I began as Project ADAM coordinator in collaboration with Texas Children’s Hospital. My primary goal is to help schools be prepared to respond appropriately to a cardiac emergency so the victim has the best chance of survival. Schools are asked to complete a checklist to be recognized as a Heart-Safe School, which includes having a cardiac emergency response plan, a team of responders trained to implement the plan and conducting two CPR/AED drills per year. All staff receive annual awareness training and education about SCA and compression-only CPR demonstrations.
As Project ADAM coordinator, I have given presentations to large and small groups all around the area, sharing Cody’s story many times, and feel we are raising awareness and making a difference. This past year, I helped teach CPR/AED certification classes to 50 school-staffers and hands-only CPR training to 1,500 students and staff. We have recognized two schools as being Heart-Safe Schools, with five more campuses pending and four campuses in process of becoming Heart Safe. One of the best parts of this program is hearing someone was able to respond appropriately in an emergency because of something they learned as a result of this program, and training received through Project ADAM.
If you have any questions, please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org