The sudden death of 10-year-old Lazar LaPenna in 2022 during a little league game devastated the Long Beach community. NewsdayTV's Shari Einhorn reports.  Credit: Photo Credit: LaPenna Family; Howard Schnapp; A.J. Singh

More than two years ago, 10-year-old Lazar LaPenna had an epileptic seizure while running to first base during a Little League game at Point Lookout Park.

While some of Lazar’s coaches were FDNY firefighters with first responder training, they were unable to revive the fourth-grader, who had epilepsy.

Gregg LaPenna, Lazar’s father, points to one major reason that his son never woke up: the Town of Hempstead-owned field did not have an AED, or automated external defibrillator — used to revive individuals from cardiac arrest — on hand during the game.

But a new state law, which went into effect May 21, is designed to ensure that youth athletes like Lazar are never too far from lifesaving equipment.

WHAT TO KNOW

  • A new state law that went into effect last month requires camps and youth sports programs with five or more teams to have an AED, or automated external defibrillator, on hand during all games and practices.
  • Most Long Island youth sports leagues and camps said they’re already in compliance with the law, which also requires organizations to have an adult trained to use an AED unit available during all events.
  • The law comes more than two years after 10-year-old Lazar LaPenna died after an epileptic seizure while running to first base during a Little League game at Point Lookout Park. The park did not have an AED device on its grounds.

AED 'would have made all the difference'

The measure requires that camps and youth sports programs with five or more teams submit an AED implementation plan to the state Health Department. The department is not required to sign off on the plan.

The plan mandates that an AED unit be stationed at every camp, game, practice, clinic or tournament, along with at least one person — such as a staffer, volunteer, coach or umpire — who is trained to use the defibrillator.

If the legislation had been in place on April 29, 2022, LaPenna believes his son would still be alive.

“It would have made all the difference,” said LaPenna, a Long Beach restaurateur who has filed suit against Hempstead Town and several other municipal entities, citing the lack of a functioning AED device in the park or with responding volunteer firefighters. “This [legislative mandate] has brought new meaning to my life.”

Town of Hempstead spokesman Brian Devine said all applicable town facilities and parks are in compliance with the new mandate.

“Additionally, the town trains all youth leagues and camps that apply for and receive permits for use of our facilities and fields in the proper administration of AED, in the case of emergency,” Devine said.

State public health law already required AEDs in “places of public assembly,” including ballparks and gyms.

But the legislation, which was sponsored by State Sen. Shelley Mayer, a Westchester Democrat, and signed by Gov. Kathy Hochul in November, expands the types of locations that would be mandated to maintain the devices.

The Nassau and Suffolk health departments are required to conduct annual inspections of camps, including verifying compliance with the AED law, state officials said. It is not clear if any state or local agency is required to inspect youth sports groups to determine if they've complied with the legislation.

The bill was championed by Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin, who collapsed on the field in a 2023 game against the Cincinnati Bengals. Hamlin was revived, in part, with the help of an AED unit.

While estimates vary, roughly one in 50,000 to one in 100,000 young athletes die annually of sudden cardiac arrest, according to the Mayo Clinic. 

“More than 7,000 children experience cardiac emergencies each year, and too often an AED is not available,” Mayer said. “Sudden cardiac arrest has an almost 90% fatality rate, but outcomes can be improved when CPR and AED response occur within three minutes.”

LI camps, youth sports compliance survey

Many Long Island camps and youth sports organizations contacted by Newsday say they've had an AED device in place for years, while others said they purchased a unit following passage of the legislation.

For example, the Levittown Soccer Club said AED units are now available at each of the six fields where training happens and games are played.

Meanwhile, Drina Scheiber, executive director of Port Washington Youth Activities, said the organization has had defibrillators for several years, both at their home facility and for off-site activities.

“Safety is our first priority and we believe that AEDs are essential to our first aid plan,” Scheiber said.

David Black, executive director of the Sid Jacobson Jewish Community Center in East Hills, which operates a sports program, said the center has five AEDs on site and several staffers are certified to use the devices.

But Dan Fina, spokesman for the Long Island Flag Football League in Bethpage, said he was unaware of the new law and worried about the cost of the devices, which can run in excess of $1,500 apiece, particularly for leagues with dozens of teams and fields. He also raised concerns about having AEDs always available during practices, which often take place in informal settings, and for travel games.

“On the surface, it sounds like a great idea. Everyone makes player safety their first priority,” Fina said. “Unfortunately, like many well intentioned ideas, the problems lie in the weeds. … Luckily we have until September before we play again to figure it all out.”

Other youth sports groups, including the Spartans Basketball League in Melville, said they utilize school district gymnasiums that for years have been AED compliant.

Both Nassau and Suffolk require an AED to be in place at any venue where high school athletics are played or practiced. Those requirements were implemented on the Island in 2001, and statewide in 2002, after Louis Acompora, a Northport boys lacrosse player, died from a blow to the chest sustained in a game in 2000. 

The state Education Department also requires all scholastic coaches to have first aid skills and CPR/AED certification. The training courses are sponsored by the state.

An AED machine.

An AED machine. Credit: Newsday

For Long Beach dad, pain still 'fresh'

Many Long Island day camp operators said they've had defibrillators on campus for years. That includes Future Stars Summer Camps, which has 11 locations, including nine on Long Island.

Evan Wofsy, owner of Camp W, said maintaining several AED devices at the Melville campus was a “no brainer,” even though they've never had to use them.

“I can't imagine any camp owner being cheap with those,” Wofsy said. “I would think everyone would be willing to get them right away.”

Ross Coleman, owner and director of Coleman Country Day Camp in Freeport, which has maintained multiple AEDs for two decades, said the new law was a long time coming.

“Having AEDs mandated by law for youth sports organizations and camps is long overdue,” said Coleman, who also serves as president of the Long Island Camps and Private School Association. 

LaPenna, meanwhile, has established a foundation in Lazar's memory to help youth groups have ready access to defibrillators. He wants to ensure that no other family has to experience his pain.

“It's still so fresh for my family,” he said. “Every day, it's the same day. Over and over again. It never ends.”

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