Oak Ridge family wins five-year lobbying effort

| 28 Sep 2011 | 02:18

    WEST MILFORD-For Gary and Pat Gentile of Oak Ridge, it was a victory worth their years of waiting. The Board of Education, which had failed to appropriate $15,000 for automated external defibrillators (AEDs) despite four years of appeals from the Gentile family, finally agreed to accept more than $15,000 raised by a single board member, Greg Bailey and local resident Joe Smolinski, a member of West Milford First Aid Squad, in a month-long blitz of local parent-teacher groups and privately run sports teams in the town. Claiming he's been stalled by school officials for five years, Oak Ridge resident Gary Gentile charged during the Nov. 16 Board of Education meeting that officials have repeatedly ignored requests to buy and install automated external defibrillators (AEDs) in each school and at each athletic field. The total estimated cost for seven units was estimated at $15,000. Currently the school system has two, bought and donated by the Class of 2003 and by the West Milford Rotary Club. Gentile brought the fight to the floor of the board because his son Kevin, then in eighth grade, collapsed five years ago while in the lunch line at Macopin Middle School. Those who immediately went to his aid discovered a heart beating out of control. By the time the school nurse arrived, minutes later, Kevin's heart had stopped, as had his breathing, his father said. Among the first aid procedures was application of an antiquated technique, the precordial thump. "It's not actually something they even teach anymore in CPR classes because it very rarely works," he told the board at its last meeting. However, it can, in some instances, create enough electrical energy that the heart will restart. In Kevin's case it did. If Kevin's heart hadn't been restarted, he would have died," even with best efforts of the school nurse, Gentile told the school board. "The only thing that would have saved his life at that point was a defibrillator." At that time, there were only two in the county, and none in West Milford, he added. Following an initial mis-diagnosis at an area hospital, Kevin collapsed again, 10 days later while walking to home room, "but this time we had a four-minute recording of his heart rhythm on the event monitor," Gentile recalled. "He was transported to Columbia Presbyterian Hospital in New York City where he was diagnosed with HCM, Hypertropic Cardiomyopathy. While at Columbia, Kevin required surgery to implant a pacemaker and a defibrillator in him." "HCM causes sudden cardiac death in people of all ages. These events have made us acutely aware of the need for AEDs in all our schools. Many children, teachers, administrators, parents and guests pass through the school buildings everyday. Any one of these people could, at any time, benefit from an AED being on the premises. In a cardiac emergency, every minute counts." "Kevin is now a senior in high school, and over the past four years we have spoken with Mr. Johnson (Ray Johnson, Macopin Middle School principal), Mr. McCormick (high school Principal Michael McCormick) and Mr. Cea (Steven Cea, the school system's business administrator) about AEDs. We were told the devices were included in the Macopin and high school budgets. However, to date, none have been purchased by the board of education," Gentile told the board in November. Despite that plea, the board failed to act, claiming financial concerns although a school official admitted there was $1.7 million in surplus funds in the school system accounts. Instead it asked Bailey, as financial subcommittee chairman, to find a way to fund the $15,000. "Are you telling me this community can't find $15,000 in a month," Bailey retorted at the earlier meeting. The day after that meeting, Bailey told the council he started the wheels turning and contacted Smolinski. They then waged a telephone campaign to raise the needed funds from parent-teacher groups, including the Marshall Hill, Macopin, Maple Road, Paradise Knoll, Upper Greenwood Lake and Westbrook Schools. Contributions also came from the West Milford Administrators Association, Girls' Softball Association, Little League, High School Basketball and Football Booster Clubs, the Midget Football Association and Lakeland State Bank. Steven Gottlieb, is assistant to the superintendent of the Rockaway School Department, a somewhat smaller school system with five elementary schools, a middle school and a total of 3,000 students has defibrillators. "In November, 2003, we put one in each of the five elementary schools and two in the middle school. This fall we added a third in the middle school, and one to the bus garage and one to the central office. We have 10 altogether," Gottlieb noted. He said the first recommendation was from our district nurses (in Spring, 2003), then went to our health and safety committee. Then from there it went to the superintendent and the board. Following the latest school board meeting, Gentile noted that all public schools in Pennsylvania are required to have defibrillators under legislation signed by former Gov. Tom Ridge. He also says they are required in New York City public schools. "I'm very happy with what Greg and Joe did in raising that money in a short period of time. If it had been left to the board's devices, it would still be a non-issue," Gentile commented.