Northport family raises focus on AEDs

John and Karen Acompora, founders of The Louis John and Karen Acompora, founders of The Louis J. Acompora Memorial Foundation, pose with Kiavelyn Altagarcia. (Oct. 9, 2013) Photo Credit: Heather Walsh

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Karen and John Acompora pulled up to an Amityville elementary school they had never visited, to meet a girl they did not know.

A few weeks earlier, 12-year-old Kiavelyn Altagracia, a seventh-grader at Edmund W. Miles Middle School in Amityville, collapsed on the sideline during her soccer practice. She was unconscious and barely had a pulse, said her coach, Isha Hamilton, who started CPR.

Within minutes, Hamilton used an automated external defibrillator, more commonly known as an AED. The machine the size of a laptop computer told her to keep doing chest compressions and rescue breathing.

"She took a deep gasp, and I felt a very faint pulse," Hamilton said. Kiavelyn slowly regained consciousness.

The AED was on the field because of the Acomporas of Northport, whose son Louis died on March 25, 2000, after a ball hit him in the chest during his first high school lacrosse game. There was no AED on hand.

The lacrosse game was in West Islip. The second quarter had just started and Louis was in the goal, wearing a chest protector, when the ball struck him and he collapsed.

Karen and John Acompora were in the stands and thought Louis had had the wind knocked out of him. But after a few minutes, Louis didn't get up, and his parents knew something was wrong. John Acompora ran to the field, while CPR was being performed. Karen Acompora remembers seeing her husband take off Louis' chin strap.

Louis, 14, died on that field.

In 2002, Louis' Law was enacted, months after the family launched the Louis J. Acompora Memorial Foundation. The law mandates that schools, including athletic events, have AEDs on-site and people trained to use them. Kiavelyn was the 75th save statewide since the law passed.

"It is amazing what they are doing and so heroic," said Hamilton, who teaches physical education at the Amityville school. The Acomporas attended an October school board meeting at Park Avenue Elementary, where they presented awards to Kiavelyn, Hamilton and Greg McCoy, another coach who assisted with the save.

The Acomporas, who also have a daughter, have spent years raising awareness about AEDs. To date, the law has saved 76 people, the family said.

"Out of those 76, there are a lot of them who have paid it forward," Karen Acompora said. One is a foundation board member, and many have helped raise money and participated in advocacy efforts, she said.

Greater New York American Red Cross spokesman Michael de Vulpillieres said Kiavelyn's save "emphasizes the continued importance of using an AED within two to three minutes of sudden cardiac arrest and having trained rescuers who recognize and act in an emergency to save a life."

"We applaud the efforts of the Acompora family over the years to make AEDs more accessible while honoring the memory of their son," de Vulpillieres said.

American Heart Association staff member Robin Vitale said the Acomporas "are a tremendous source of strength and inspiration for those of us working to improve bystander response to an emergency, meaning CPR initiation and using an AED."

"I simply cannot begin to imagine the depth of pain they experienced 13 years ago with the death of their son, Louis," Vitale said. "But what a testament to the courage of Karen and John that they have committed to building his legacy by continuing their advocacy."The foundation just held an event in Floral Park, where about 400 children were screened for heart conditions, and they are planning another for next year.

Karen Acompora says her family's work helps keep Louis' memory alive. They always talk about him, and now they have a grandson, 5-year-old Louis. "It is like Louis is still here with us," she said.

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