Student Well-Being

Foundation Seeks to Honor Deceased Athlete by Promoting Safety Laws

By Bryan Toporek — May 17, 2011 1 min read
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You may remember the tragic story of Wes Leonard from earlier this year—the 16-year-old basketball player had just hit a buzzer-beating shot to clinch a perfect regular season for his high school team when his enlarged heart gave out and caused him to collapse on the court. After being rushed to a hospital and undergoing CPR, Leonard was pronounced dead as a result of sudden cardiac arrest.

Now, his family and friends have banded together to create The Wes Leonard Heart Team, a foundation that will lobby for student-athlete safety legislation. The foundation’s website lays out a few key legislative items that it will pursue, such as:

• Ensuring that all public and private schools have enough automatic electronic defibrillators, or AEDs, on site;

• Having all staff members (including coaches and coaches’ assistants) be trained in both CPR and first aid;

• For all schools to have a comprehensive “emergency action plan,” and to hold regular drills.

The foundation also hopes to raise money to research a widely accepted cardiology screening, processes to advance the screening capabilities, and general research in the field of cardiology to help prevent deaths caused by sudden cardiac arrest.

In the Holland area of Michigan, there have been four instances of sudden cardiac arrest at high school sporting events in the past three-and-a-half years (including Leonard’s death), according to The Holland Sentinel. The other three people who went into cardiac arrest were all revived, and since then, those schools have only added more AEDs.

Fennville, where Leonard attended high school, had only one AED on campus at the time of Leonard’s death; it was located about 200 feet away from the gym in the Community Athletic Center. Since Leonard’s death, the school has received four more AEDs through donation—three from the Greg Moyer Foundation and one from Peter Metcalfe of Start a Heart—and more are on the way, according to the Sentinel.

“Any time ... a tragedy like that would happen, I would imagine people would have the same response that we’ve had, and that is a lot of soul-searching, a lot of questions,” Fennville Superintendent Dirk Weeldreyer said to the Holland newspaper. “It’s a tragedy that strikes you to the core, and so obviously, he wasn’t saved. So, in the end, ultimately you just wish more could have been done.”

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Schooled in Sports blog.