Advocates: Gym defibrillators could make 'difference between life and death'

Like schools, higher education institutions and golf courses, athletic facilities and health clubs in Connecticut may soon be required to have an automatic external defibrillator (AED) on site.

Like schools, higher education institutions and golf courses, athletic facilities and health clubs in Connecticut may soon be required to have an automatic external defibrillator (AED) on site.

Contributed photo / Orangetheory Fitness

RIDGEFIELD — A state bill that would require all Connecticut athletic facilities and health clubs to be equipped with automatic external defibrillators will help save lives, advocates said.

The bill was inspired by the story of Ridgefield’s Edward Brennan, who died from a cardiac event in December 2012. Brennan, a lifelong athlete and coach, was working out at a gym on the outskirts of town when he collapsed to the floor and died minutes later. He was 50 years old.

“By the time EMS got to my husband, he was gone,” his wife, Suzanne Brennan, said. She said if the gym had a defibrillator, it could’ve saved his life.

In Connecticut, automated external defibrillators are required at K-12 schools, higher education institutions and golf courses, but not gyms.

“It is undisputed that there is an increase in sudden cardiac arrest in such an environment,” Brennan said. “The chances of surviving cardiac arrest diminish 7 to 10 percent every minute without immediate CPR or defibrillation, and it takes an average of four to 10 minutes for EMS to reach someone in distress.”

Shortly before the eight-year anniversary of her husband’s death, Brennan decided to turn her grief into action.

“You have to make your suffering count for something,” she said.

She shared her story with state Sen. Will Haskell, D-Westport, and state Rep. Aimee Berger-Girvalo, D-Ridgefield, to advocate for legislation. In January, the lawmakers proposed SB110 to require athletic facilities and health clubs to have AEDs on site with at least one staff member or volunteer trained to use the device.

After reaching out to legislators on both sides of the aisle, Brennan’s bill attracted 13 co-sponsors, which “helped us make a case that this provision be included in the larger legislative vehicle,” Haskell said, referring to SB1083. “The prospects for this bill becoming law are looking rather strong, and that’s a testament to her unbelievable advocacy.”

Since a number of neighboring states have legislation requiring AEDs, Haskell said, it’s “common sense” that Connecticut should, too.

“(Berger-Girvalo and I) were each so touched by (Brennan’s) desire to save lives in the future and make sure other families don’t experience the tragedy they had endured,” he added. “Tragically, it’s all too common.”

Five years ago, Chris Esemplare went into cardiac arrest at a local gym. A gym employee who took it upon himself to learn cardiopulmonary resuscitation began administering it immediately as emergency medical service was dispatched. A police officer nearby assisted with an AED from his patrol car until the ambulance arrived. Esemplare survived.

“I was told by his doctors that it didn't matter what they did at the hospital, what mattered was how many minutes had passed before he received help at the gym,” said Esemplare’s wife, Kristen. “It is difficult to imagine my life, or the lives of our three sons, had things gone otherwise. This bill will absolutely save lives.”

In a testimonial supporting SB1083, Ridgefield’s David Andry recalled two instances when an AED saved his life. When he was 39, he suffered a massive heart attack while working out at the gym. Ten years later, at that same gym, he suffered another heart attack.

“The quick thinking and availability of the AED brought me back to life again,” Andry wrote in his testimony. “This bill needs support from everyone — it’s literally the difference between life and death. How many men and women have to suffer a cardiac event in a gym before we mandate this simple solution that is bound to save lives?”

alyssa.seidman@hearstmediact.com