In death, 14-year-old Jacob Greenberg of Merrick, L.I., may save lives.
The ninth-grader at the Hebrew Academy of the Five Towns and Rockaway and some friends were tossing around a football last week on the school’s front lawn when he collapsed. The school nurse administered CPR, and a nearby Hatzalah ambulance crew arrived within minutes and tried to revive him using a defibrillator.
“Neurologists and cardiologists told us that the walls of his heart collapsed,” said Rabbi Jeremiah Wohlberg of Congregation Ohav Shalom in Merrick, the family’s synagogue. “We were told by medical authorities that nothing could have saved him. This is the kind of trauma that unfortunately [happens in] athletic males. Ballplayers in the best of condition die suddenly from the same diagnosis. It is something you are born with and is detectible only by sophisticated testing.”
Rabbi David Leibtag, educational director at HAFTR and the former principal at its middle school, recalled Jacob participating on the wrestling and hockey teams.
“He was a good student and a real mensch,” Rabbi Leibtag said. “He was one of the first ones who came to daven at the minyan in the morning. He was an overall well-rounded student — good academics, an athlete and a friend. He was thriving and enjoying school immensely.”
David Shapiro, executive director of HAFTR, said Jacob’s death has “heightened an awareness” about the need for a defibrillator at the school and that “we have gotten phone calls from people offering to donate one.”
“We feel that having them on our campus is important and we will be working to bring them in shortly,” Shapiro said.
“The feeling had been that with the volunteer fire department being within a half-mile [of the HAFTR High School in Cedarhurst] and with Hatzalah being less than five minutes away, it might be safer to call them” than to have a defibrillator and use it incorrectly, Shapiro said.
In May 2002, New York State adopted legislation requiring that all public schools, charter schools, BOCES, and county vocational education and extension boards provide and maintain on-site at least one automatic external defibrillator. The machine, which administers an electric shock to the heart, is designed to restore a normal heart rhythm to one who has experienced sudden cardiac arrest. The law also requires that at least one staff person be trained in its operation.
But the law does not cover private schools, and Rabbi Martin Schloss, executive director of the Board of Jewish Education, said there had been a push a few years ago to acquire a defibrillator for every Jewish school in the area. There are more than 200 day schools, 300 early childhood programs and 300 congregational schools in the city, Long Island and Westchester serving about 150,000 children.
“There was a possible funding source a couple of years ago, but that didn’t materialize,” Schloss said. “We need to get back to the drawing board, and it ought not to be from losing a child in a school. We should be proactive. I would encourage all educational institutions to do what they can to get one.
“We would like to link up with other community organizations to ensure that every school and every place that serves people — especially children — be equipped with defibrillators,” he said.
Rabbi Wohlberg said his Orthodox congregation purchased a defibrillator after a committee of doctors at the synagogue “assessed what should be available and [we acted] based on their recommendation.”
Bruce Greenfield, executive director of the New York Metropolitan Region of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, said his organization has recommended that each of its 115 synagogues have a defibrillator on the premises.
“More and more synagogues are getting them because many of them have aging populations,” he said. “They are becoming more commonplace today. At least half of our synagogues have them.”
Greenfield said that although his organization sent a mailing several years ago encouraging synagogues to get a defibrillator, the death of Jacob Greenberg has prompted him to “put another reminder in our regular mailing to congregations that if they have not done it [acquired a defibrillator], they should. We have kids his age in our buildings, and youth programs and synagogues with gymnasiums.”
A spot check of four Conservative synagogues on Long Island found two without a defibrillator (the Huntington and Dix Hills Jewish Centers) and two with one (the Midway Jewish Center in Syosset and the Shelter Rock Jewish Center in Roslyn).
A spokeswoman for the Union for Reform Judaism said her organization’s 80 synagogues in the New York area “are aware of the benefits of having a defibrillator, and over the years we have had exhibitors at our conventions demonstrate them. They are important any place people gather.”
Joyce Szymanski, a spokeswoman for Medtronic Inc., the largest manufacturer of defibrillators, said her company makes a defibrillator that requires only the correct placement of pads on the person’s body. She said the defibrillator analyzes heart activity and provides a shock, if necessary.
“You don’t have to push a button to shock,” she said. “It is only one of two on the market that is fully automatic.”
The device sells for $1,800 to $2,000.Szymanski said the usefulness of a defibrillator has been proven. If a heart attack victim is defibrillated within one minute of an attack, she said, chances of survival are 90 percent. The survival rate drops to 70 percent if defibrillation occurs within four minutes and 2 percent if it occurs within 10 minutes.
“Up to 450,000 Americans experience sudden cardiac arrest each year, and 5 to 10 percent survive because a defibrillator was on the scene,” she said.