Heather Skillman, a cheerleader at North Hunterdon Regional High School, and Michigan high school basketball Wes Leonard were two of the thousands of student-athletes to experience sudden cardiac arrest at school sporting events in 2011.
But unlike Heather, Wes succombed to SCA, the leading cause of death among student-athletes in the U.S. Heather was successfully revived by the use of an automatic external defibrillator, a portable device capable of safely delivering an electrical shock to a stopped heart.
For seven years, Warren residents Jim and Karen Zilinski have battled with New Jersey legislators to gain passage of , which would require all schools in the state to have AEDs available—and hope to see the measure finally passed by the full Assembly Thursday.
The law is named after the couple's daughter, who died in August 2006 after suffering sudden cardiac arrest. The bill, sponsored by Jon Bramnick, R-21, Craig Coughlin, D-19 and Vincent Prieto, D-32, would require public and private schools obtain the AEDs and train five staff members in CPR. Fulfilling the bill's mandate would require an appropriation of about $130,000 for the approximately 100 New Jersey schools currently without AEDs.
The Zilinskis, who also launched Janet's Fund, which , have been following the growing list of children who have died because of a lack of the AEDs, and that since thier daughter died, another 30 New Jersey children have suffered the same fate.
The bill stalled in the Assembly's Appropriations Committee last year, but was passed by the committee yesterday—one day before what would have been Janet Zilinski's 18th birthday.
“This is a must have piece of legislation," Bramnick said. "We have many supporters on both sides of the floor.”
He also stated how he and other elected officials saw firsthand the importance of having quick access to an AED.
The Assembly Appropriations Committee expressed their sympathy to the Zilinskis, as well as the members' gratitude and admiration for continuing to fight for passage of the law despite the emotional toll of testifying.
Speaking before the Committee, Karen Zilinski shared the details of her daughter’s tragic death and informed the committee that 30 other New Jersey children have also fallen victim to SCA since 2006. Two children died in state public schools between September 2011 and January 2012.
“We cannot let this list (of children) keep growing,” she said. “We have to do something.”
Jim Zilinski spoke of the lives saved in New York, Ohio and Texas (60, 22, and 29, respectively) after passage of school AED laws in each state.
“It’s too late to save my daughter," he said. "This bill is about protecting all the other children in New Jersey. It is about saving lives.”
Also testifying on behalf of the law was Watchung resident Will Gerhard, 19, and an SCA survivor, who said he believes this law has to be passed because he was one of the lucky ones where an AED was available. In many cases, one is not immediately available.
Hunterdon County Girl Scout Troope 447 also came out in support of the law. Troop leader Joanie Barrett spoke of how the girls did their Silver Project with The Janet Fund, helping the fund complete an AED survey of all public schools in New Jersey.
Janet’s Law has also been endorsed by the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Heart Association, American Red Cross, Athletic Trainers’ Society of New Jersey, New Jersey Association of School Administrators, New Jersey EducationAssociation, New Jersey Principals and Supervisors Association, New Jersey Recreation and Parks Association, New Jersey School Board Association, New Jersey State School Nurses Association, Parent Heart Watch, and the Sudden Arrhythmia Death Syndromes Foundation and many others.
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