Q&A: Westport couple honored for ‘heroic’ AED crusade
WESTPORT — MaryGrace and Mark Gudis, Westport residents who donated 100 automated external defibrillators to the their hometown and other area communities, will be honored by the American Red Cross at the state chapter’s annual Red Cross Connecticut Heroes Breakfast on April 29 in Stamford.
An AED is a portable device that supplies an electrical shock to a stopped heart in order to restore normal heart rhythm.
At halftime during their son’s varsity soccer game last Oct. 23, the Westport couple experienced first-hand how instrumental an AED can be to saving a life. While teams were playing on the field, a 17-year-old student suffered sudden cardiac arrest.
Mark Gudis, who was trained in cardio-pulmonary resuscitation and AED use, had an AED in the car and rushed to get it. Meanwhile, school athletic trainers and two parents performed CPR on the stricken student. As a result of the group’s quick actions, the student survived.
The Gudis couple, both board members at Norwalk Hospital, were motivated to make AEDs more readily available for emergencies throughout the region.
The Westport News recently interviewed them about their crusade.
Westport News: What prompted you to start carrying an AED in your car prior to the Oct. 23 incident?
Mark Gudis: I was a youth coach, I was a lifeguard, but we’ve lost two close family friends, their children, to sudden cardiac arrest and you see that and you go, “Wow, we’ve got to be prepared.” That’s why we have them in the car.
WN: When did you start carrying one?
Mark: 2008, and at that time I bought the soccer team one.
WN: Recount your actions on Oct. 23.
Mark: We immediately opened up the AED because he wasn’t breathing and he wasn’t conscious. He’s a student that I know and I used to coach. We hooked him up — these AEDs are, I hate to say, idiot proof, but a sixth-grader could use them. They talk you through the instructions. Fortunately, all of us were certified. It analyzes and it says administer shock, so if the person doesn’t need it, the device won’t allow you to. We administered the shock and then it analyzes for a minute and it tells you whether or not to administer a second shock and, right as that minute was over, he started to come through.
MaryGrace Gudis: To protect his privacy, I think the fans weren’t really aware what was going on. The coaches had the soccer teams facing away from the incident while they did their drills with their backs turned and they formed a perfect circle around him. So people weren’t coming down to invade his privacy and it was truly a community effort.
WN: How did you decide to donate AEDs after the incident?
Mark: MaryGrace and I got together and we said, “What can we do to be proactive to make sure something like this doesn’t happen again. Are there enough AEDs in the community? How many people are actually trained in the community? What are the training resources that the school has? So what can we do?”
We made a decision the next day to buy 100 and write the check. So we went to Norwalk Hospital and partnered with them. Then we asked, “Who do we need to talk to make sure these AEDs get put in the right places?” We talked to the selectman’s office, the Board of Education, the superintendent, the EMS officials and public health officials about where are they needed in order to have a coordinated effort.
WN: Where specifically are you putting the new AEDs in Westport?
Mark: In Westport, there’s only one (AED) in Town Hall. We’re adding two to Town Hall, we’re adding them to the marinas, there aren’t any in the marinas. We’re adding one at the halfway house on a golf course, we’re adding them to the baseball fields, the tennis courts, Levitt Pavilion, Old Mill Beach, so that’s where were adding them and we’ve already agreed to replace them in 10 years.
MaryGrace: Camp Compo, where they play basketball in the summer; at the transfer station, where all the workers trucks come.
WN: What are the other components of your initiative outside of purchasing the AEDs?
Mark: We would like to see CPR training and certification as part of the P.E. (physical education) curriculum. If you can make it part of the P.E. curriculum, within three years you’re going to have 2,200 kids trained in CPR. Through our partnership with Norwalk Hospital we will provide all the training, the materials, the teachers — everything. Colleen Palmer, the incoming superintendent, did the same thing in Weston.
We have approximately 1,700 student athletes in Westport and hundreds of others involved in other after-school activities. We have two of the best trainers, but they can’t cover the 1,700. You go in there to get treated before practice, you’re waiting 40 minutes to get taped not of their fault because there’s only two of them to treat all these people. So we’ve asked the schools to do a self-assessment: Do you have enough training resources? We’re trying to get them more resources because you need more than two trainers.