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Acompora group extends lifesaving reach

Karen Acompora honors the memory of her son,

Karen Acompora honors the memory of her son, who died of cardiac arrest in 2000, by raising awareness about portable defibrillators. (Oct. 12, 2011) Credit: Steve Pfost

A Northport-based foundation is joining with a major advocacy organization to outfit 140 Long Island group homes with portable defibrillators -- and to make the lifesaving devices available to others in those communities.

The Louis J. Acompora Foundation has been in the vanguard of raising public awareness about the need for automated electronic defibrillators -- AEDs. Louis' Law, enacted in 2002, required the devices to be placed in New York public schools.

The foundation's namesake was struck in the chest during a lacrosse game 11 years ago, causing the 14-year-old to go into fatal cardiac arrest.

Now, Karen Acompora is further honoring her son's memory in a partnership with Family Residences and Essential Enterprises, or FREE, in Bethpage.

FREE operates 140 residential programs on Long Island, serving 3,000 people with developmental and mental health disabilities. Each of those homes is now being designated as links in the foundation's HeartSaver network.

"We certainly want to be good neighbors and to be part of our communities, and that means helping our neighbors and potentially saving some lives," said Richard Timo, a FREE director and clinical psychologist.

Timo said 67 of the organization's houses have already received an AED, and apartments will get theirs soon. A formal announcement of the initiative is scheduled for Thursday.

AEDs do not help people having a heart attack but can save those who collapse as a result of sudden cardiac arrest. The heart rhythm disorder kills more than 300,000 people a year in the United States. AEDs have electronic voices that help rescuers save lives.

Residents in many of the FREE homes have already been trained to use the devices. A program to train others in surrounding neighborhoods will start next week, Timo said.

Homes with one of the devices will have a sign prominently placed on the front door or in a window visible from the street.

Karen Anderson, a resident of a FREE home in Melville, said she is pleased the device is available. "If somebody passed out or something, you need that AED to revive them," she said.

Acompora said each of the homes will register with local emergency medical service departments so callers can be directed to a nearby AED.

"Every minute that passes and a defibrillator is not used, the chance of survival drops by 10 percent," she said. Brain death occurs within four minutes and it usually takes emergency responders 10 minutes or more to reach someone in need, Acompora said.

The devices were purchased through fundraising by The Slomo and Cindy Silvian Foundation and 12 For Life New York State.

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