Defibrillator and quick action at East Hampton High School saves life of referee

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A quick-thinking team from the East Hampton High School athletics department and an Amagansett EMT who just happened to be there saved a referee’s life during a junior varsity basketball game Friday evening.

The referee, Fred Heckman of Center Moriches, was running to see a play in the game about 5:30 p.m. when he collapsed and began convulsing, according to witnesses. An automated external defibrillator, or AED, was in the school’s hallway near the gym and Richie King, a physical education teacher and coach who was working as a security staffer during the game, sprinted to get it, according to Athletic Director Joseph Vasile-Cozzo.

Randy Cherill, a trainer for the high school sports program, and Judy Bennett, an EMT from Amagansett, performed CPR until Mr. Vasile-Cozzo and John Crupp, a coach, applied the pads from the AED to Mr. Heckman’s chest and attached the leads, according to Ms. Cherill. The device, which is voice-activated and has voice instructions, told the men to push a button on the machine, sending a shock to the victim’s heart.

Ms. Cherill said she and Ms. Bennett performed CPR again for a couple of minutes and Mr. Heckman began breathing again. EMTs from East Hampton and police arrived a few minutes later.

“He was unconscious, had no pulse and wasn’t breathing. It was very emotional. I’ve never seen anything like it, it was very scary,” said Mr. Vasile-Cozzo. “Something like this puts everything in perspective. And to see the staff respond the way they did was wonderful.”

Ms. Cherill said she had been so fired up with adrenaline during the emergency she only vaguely remembers what she did. “You just jump into action and do what you have to do,” she said. “The coaching staff here is fabulous. They are always there to do what needs to be done. It was totally a team effort.” In addition to serving as the high school Athletic Department’s trainer, she is a co-owner of Sports Therapy, a physical therapy office in Amagansett and is trained annually in CPR.

Mr. Heckman was taken to Southampton Hospital, where he was treated and, on Saturday, transferred in fair condition to Stony Brook University Hospital, a spokeswoman for Southampton Hospital said. He was still listed as a patient in the Stony Brook hospital Tuesday.

Mr. Heckman’s cardiac event occurred during the second quarter of the game against Greenport. The decision to return to the game was not an easy one, said Mr. Vasile-Cozze, but the game was finished in the interest of trying to return things to a degree of normalcy after the emergency. The East Hampton team won 61-52.

After EMTs arrived, Mr. Heckman was sitting up on the gurney and able to talk, Mr. Vasile-Cozze said.

About a year and a half ago, 40 defibrillators were distributed to various restaurants, public libraries, post offices, and other public buildings throughout the hamlets of East Hampton town and Montauk, thanks to a private donor who contributed $40,000 for the purchase of the $1,000-machines. The distribution was coordinated by East Hampton Healthcare Foundation and the East Hampton ambulance corps. The name of the donor was never disclosed.

The machine used on Mr. Heckman was not one of the 40 distributed, but one of four East Hampton High School keeps in its building, one in the main hall, another in the athletic office and two used for taking to away games.

“Defibrillators save lives and in order for us to continue to make East Hampton a healthy community, it’s important that they be installed,” said Sheila Rogers, director of the Healthcare Foundation. “Any place where people gather, a cardiac event could happen. We thought it was important to work with the ambulance group to distribute these and train people in the community to use them.

“The longer is takes for someone 
to receive emergency assistance, the worse the outcome is going to 
be,” she said. “By having the defibrillators placed locally, chances are 
that lives can be saved.”

Ms. Rogers said the defibrillators are so easy to use that someone in an emergency can figure out how to use it right away. “You follow the pictures on the directions and listen to the voice on the machine and it will guide the user through,” she said.

The defibrillators will not shock someone unless it senses there is something wrong with the victim’s heart rhythm or heartbeat, she said.

Ms. Roger said a current copy of the foundation’s newsletter lists all the places in the East Hampton and Montauk area where defibrillators are installed. Anyone who wants a copy of that newsletter can call her at 324-8943.

Heart attacks are the nation’s leading cause of death. Nationwide, more than 1,000 people die every day after suffering heart attacks outside of a hospital. According to the American Heart Association, for every minute that passes after a person suffers cardiac arrest, their chance of survival diminishes by 10 percent. After ten minutes, survival is rare.

Defibrillators used to be available only at hospitals. Technology has made them increasingly portable and today they are standard equipment in all ambulances, police cars—including those in East Hampton—government buildings and schools. One was used to revive a janitor at East Hampton Middle School in 2003.

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