Mary Beth Habunek has no memories of her father. Coronary artery disease took his life when he was just 37 years old – Mary Beth’s mother, Eileen, was still pregnant. With only photographs and other people’s memories of her dad, Mary Beth wanted to do all she could to make sure the same thing didn’t happen to other families – only this time the roles were reversed – it was the kids she was worried about saving.
“I’m a social worker on the school-age unit and we see many cardiac telemetry patients,” she said. “I know there are times that call for kids with life-threatening heart conditions to carry an AED or have one in their home. I also know these are very expensive pieces of equipment.”
Automated external defibrillator (AED) is a portable device that checks the heart rhythm and can send an electric shock to the heart to try to restore a normal rhythm.
According to Dr. John Clark, director of the Arrhythmia Center, the national survival rate of an out-of-hospital cardiac arrest is 5% unless a person can be shocked in less than 3 minutes. Since the average response time by EMS is 8 minutes having an AED on hand can mean the difference between life and death.
“In children who are shocked in less than 3 minutes, the survival rate approaches 100%,” he said. “Beyond 3 minutes, the likelihood of survival drops by 10% every minute.”
Mary Beth has worked with Dr. Clark as he has grown from a resident to a world-renowned doctor (he pioneered the procedure for catheter ablation without radiation), and she was inspired by his commitment to patients with heart disease. She wanted to do something to give back to the Heart Center while also honoring the memory of her dad.
“It was during Dr. Clark’s residency at Akron Children’s that I was fortunate enough to get to know him because we worked together on many cases,” she said. “I have known hundreds of residents over my 27-year career here, but he’s one of the memorable. I feel privileged to know and work with him for his compassion, pragmatism, thoroughness and humility. It has been awesome to watch him become an internationally known pediatric cardiologist.
“I know how strongly he believes in the power of AEDs to save lives,” she added. “The Heart Center has a program where they loan out AEDs to patients in need until they can get the funds together to purchase one (insurance generally will only reimburse after the fact).
“In children known to be at risk for an arrhythmia (abnormal heart rhythm), providing the family with an AED gives them the ability to save the child’s life while waiting for EMS to arrive,” said Teresa Dangerfield, arrhythmia program coordinator. “When Dr. Clark makes a diagnosis of a dangerous heart rhythm, one of my roles is to help the family implement an action plan.”
Mary Beth knew buying an AED, which costs approximately $1,500 per unit, would be a strain for most families.
“My mom (Eileen Habunek) and I wanted to do something that would buy families a little time to get the money together and not have to worry about putting their child’s life in jeopardy,” she said.
With their donation of an AED, the Heart Center now has 2 it can loan out for 3 months at a time. Mary Beth and Eileen hope their donation not only helps to prevent another family’s tragedy, but also to help Dr. Clark spread his message.
“AEDs can make all the difference,” said Dr. Clark. “Nothing can relieve a parent’s fear more than providing them with this lifesaving tool.”