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Widow and mom loses 'entire family' but wins a long-fought legislative victory for late son

Melinda Murray-Nyack.

Melinda Murray-Nyack. Credit: Danielle Silverman

Melinda Murray-Nyack cried when Sen. James Gaughran called to tell her the bill named after her only child, who died of sudden cardiac arrest weeks after starting college, had passed the State Senate.

"I was numb because I didn’t know what to feel. Happy? Glad? Sad? … I just couldn’t believe it," Murray-Nyack, 52, recalled of her reaction to the June 3 call.

The "Dominic Murray Sudden Cardiac Arrest Prevention Act" passed in the State Legislature earlier this month and is pending Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s signature to become law.

"We support the intent of the bill, the exact language of which remains under review by Counsel’s office," Cuomo spokesman Rich Azzopardi wrote Monday in an email.

Sudden cardiac arrest is a condition where the heart suddenly and unexpectedly stops beating, according to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. Most people who have the condition die from it — often within minutes. The major risk factor is ischemic heart disease, caused by narrowed heart arteries, though many may not know that they have heart disease until sudden cardiac arrest occurs.

The act would require the state Education Department to include signs and symptoms of the life-threatening emergency on its website. Such information would also be included on permission forms that parents must sign before students could participate in interscholastic athletics. The requirement would apply to public and private K-12 schools.

Similar legislation to address the leading cause of death among school athletes already exists in 14 states, according to the bill. Wisconsin is considering a similar proposal.

Legislators and advocates like Murray-Nyack said raising awareness through education will help prevent tragedies like the one that happened to her son on a Farmingdale State College basketball court nearly 12 years ago.

Dominic Murray was 17 and a college freshman who had only been on campus for seven weeks when he collapsed and died on Oct. 5, 2009, during a pickup game. He wanted to play professional basketball and learn sports management.

Three years earlier, in July 2006, Murray-Nyack’s husband, Alpha Dominic Murray, died of a heart attack at the age of 42.

"I lost my entire family," said Murray-Nyack, of East Elmhurst.

But soon after her son’s death, she felt she needed to act.

Eight months after her son died, Murray-Nyack created the Dominic A. Murray 21 Memorial Foundation to raise awareness of sudden cardiac arrest. Since the earliest version of the bill was introduced in the 2013-14 legislative session, she kept pushing for its passage every year.

"Usually you hear about it if there’s an incidence that is broadcast in the media because another child has died," said Murray-Nyack, who remarried two years ago. "At the moment, people know all about it. But then it dies down. This won’t die down."

Gaughran (D-Northport), who sponsored the bill, said its passage comes at a time when youth are resuming sporting activities.

"Everybody is going to head back to the fields and courts, going back to normal as it relates to a lot of things, including sports," he said. "This is an important awareness bill. Sudden cardiac arrest is real. It can happen at any time to just anybody."

Since losing her son, Murray-Nyack said she has not changed his room. Some days, she sits on his bed to read or just have a moment to herself. After finishing the call with Gaughran earlier this month, she said she went upstairs to his room again.

"I went in there and I said: ‘It’s happening Dom. It’s happening.’ "

SUDDEN CARDIAC ARREST

  • The condition happens when the heart suddenly and unexpectedly stops beating.
  • Death can occur if the person is not treated within minutes.
  • Signs include loss of consciousness and heartbeat. Some may experience a racing heartbeat or feel dizzy before they faint.
  • The person must be treated with a defibrillator right away. With every passing minute, the chances of survival drop rapidly.

SOURCE: National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute

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